October 31, 2018

The Benefits of Gratitude on Your Mind, Your Body, and Your Happiness

A surprisingly simple way to feel better every day

When the days fly by and your overloaded routine is all you have to hang onto, some things get dropped by the wayside.

You might take a shorter lunch, put off administrative tasks, or…you might also drop certain courtesies. Not intentionally, of course, and not out of rudeness. But more as a shortcut, a faster and more abbreviated option to compensate for other urgent and important demands.

And others are operating the same way. But that pattern gets old really quick. When you lose connection with other people, you might not notice it right away — but it is negatively impacting you almost immediately.

Saying thank you and showing gratitude is so important – for you and those around you. And the more you put out there, the more you get back.

Research into gratitude has been prolific the past 20 years and more is still being learned every day. Today, we’ll tackle some of the research done by the Greater Good and show you the discoveries they have made in the benefits of gratitude on your body, your mind, and your relationships.

So if you’re feeling like gratitude has been pushed aside and overtaken by other priorities, now’s the time to realign and refresh what gratitude means to you. How will you incorporate gratitude into your life today?

(PS. Need help thinking of things you’re grateful for? We designed a FREE worksheet for you to help you unlock your gratitude!)

Physical benefits of gratitude

Gratitude affects you from the inside out, resulting in a stronger immune system, being less bothered by aches and pains, and ultimately causing you to exercise more and take better care of your health according to the Greater Good.

Pretty amazing, right?

Studies show gratitude also lowers blood pressure and is “associated with higher levels of good cholesterol (HDL), lower levels of bad cholesterol (LDL), and lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure, both at rest and in the face of stress…”

Ready for more scientific benefits of gratitude? Here they come:

“Gratitude also lowers levels of creatinine, an indicator of the kidney’s ability to filter waste from the bloodstream, and lowers levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of cardiac inflammation and heart disease.”

Plus, “gratitude blocks toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret and depression, which can destroy our happiness,” Robert A. Emmons, University of California, Davis psychology professor and gratitude expert. “It’s impossible to feel envious and grateful at the same time.” Such a simple yet powerful observation!

The positive  effect extends to your heart and cardiac health as well. Based on a 2015 study, lead author Paul J. Mills, PhD, professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego found that patients who kept a gratitude journal showed “…an increase in heart rate variability while they wrote. Improved heart rate variability is considered a measure of reduced cardiac risk.”

Lastly, what is more wonderful than a great night’s sleep? Oftentimes, nothing is more important and impactful on your day to day productivity than sleep. Trying to get enough sleep and good quality sleep is challenging. Not surprisingly, practicing gratitude positively affects your sleep, helping you sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking.

For example, a study conducted in 2009 and published in The Journal of Psychosomatic Research found that pre-sleep cognition, those thoughts you have right before you fall asleep, are really significant:

“When falling asleep, grateful people are less likely to think negative and worrying thoughts, and more likely to think positive thoughts. It appears that negative pre-sleep cognitions impair sleep, and gratitude reduces the likelihood of such thoughts, protecting sleep quality. Equally, it appears that positive pre-sleep cognitions have a positive effect on sleep, and that gratitude facilitates these thoughts, leading to superior sleep quality.”

So tonight, as you’re falling asleep, are negative thoughts taking over? Switch gears and focus on the positive instead!

Think about what you’re grateful for and why, what happened today that you are grateful for? You can keep it simple. Are you grateful for your cozy bed or your soft sheets? Are you grateful to be resting your body after a long day? Grateful for quiet time alone after everyone else has gone to bed?

Psychological benefits of gratitude

If those physical benefits aren’t enough, there are psychological ones too. The Greater Good’s studies found that practicing gratitude can result in higher levels of positive emotions, make you “more alert, alive, and awake,” and feel more optimism and happiness.

A recent 2017 study found that self improvement is also a consequence of gratitude, where gratitude increases connectedness, elevation or a “warm feeling in the chest, a desire to help others and be a better person, and feeling moved, uplifted, and inspired to emulate the good deeds of others,” humility, and increased negative states such as indebtedness, guilt, and discomfort where those feelings motivated participants to change and improve the self.

These “downstream” benefits of gratitude are far-reaching and not just in the realm of positive things; negative feelings, such as guilt for not expressing gratitude, motivate and inspire a change to do so because people typically want to avoid similar negative feelings in the future.

Beyond self improvement benefits, gratitude has also been found to increase and create stronger levels of self control. Studies show gratitude specifically, compared to happiness, can reduce economic impatience and is a more effective strategy than willpower on self-regulation.

With physical and psychological benefits in abundance, social benefits tag along for the ride too.

Social benefits of a gratitude

Being a more grateful human being affects those around you. Those who practice gratitude consequently are more helpful, generous and compassionate, outgoing, and feel less lonely and isolated.

They are more forgiving too. A 2011 study showed “gratitude and forgiveness are interpersonal strengths that produce well-being through a combination of reflection, positive emotions, and adaptive social behaviors and relationships that facilitate well-being.” Similarly, studies show that gratitude enhances cooperation even if it appears costly in the moment, where there is a potential for long term gain. And by communicating gratitude and strengthening relationships, you’re more likely to work through differences and concerns.

So what can you do to reap the benefits of gratitude?

How to practice gratitude every day

Incorporating gratitude into your life takes commitment, but it doesn’t have to be all-consuming or personality changing. Try using the Ink+Volt Planner 30 day challenge to start a gratitude practice and give it a try. Here are 4 small ways you can be more grateful in your day-to-day life and show it to others!

1. Write it down

What better way to recall and remember moments of gratitude than to write about it in a gratitude journal or make a gratitude list? Gratitude journals have been found to result in those physical and psychological benefits listed above. Use this free worksheet designed by us to help you zero in on the things that make your life better.

2. Remind yourself to be present.

The biggest hurdle standing between you and saying “thank you,” or showing gratitude to someone is awareness and being present in the moment.

If you’re in a hurry or pressed for time, but interacted with someone who helped you or made a difference, being in a rush increases the chances that you won’t show your gratitude towards that person.  Slowing down in that moment and catching yourself before you run off to the next task to genuinely thank them will reap the social benefits of gratitude described above. If you honestly forget, go back later with an in person thank you or write them a thank you note describing why you appreciate what they did.

3. And express your gratitude.

Similarly, express the gratitude you feel…don’t hold it in!

Saying thank you and why you are thankful may feel awkward or challenging if you are not used to articulating those kinds of thoughts to others, but if it’s done in a heartfelt way, it can be very meaningful. Make it personal and try not to say it quickly or in a throwaway way.

At work, you could share how a colleague went above and beyond and why you are grateful for them. You can do it privately, or make it public on a team messaging board or in a team meeting. It’ll brighten their day and strengthen your relationship and reputation.

4. Try a mental subtraction exercise.

Ever wonder what it would be like without something or someone? Greater Good in Action’s site on gratitude practices has three of these, one that focuses on mental subtraction of a person, another on positive events, and a third on things.

Each of these practices asks you to think about not having, or actually going without, something or someone special. Just by imagining such a thing, the value and importance of it/that person is more appreciated you’re less likely to take it/them for granted.

As research shows, thinking in this way may bring about negative feelings such as guilt for not showing gratitude towards a person, but it can also bring about self improvement. By reflecting on things and life through a practice such as this, you’re motivated to make a change, feeling more of those psychological and social benefits.

Saying thank you could change your life

What are some of the favorite ways people have said thank you to you or shown how grateful they are for you and what you’ve done?

Share with us on Facebook or better yet, answer this question in your gratitude list or journal and then pay it forward. Not only will you physically and mentally feel better, but you’ll improve and strengthen your relationships with those around you.

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” William Arthur Ward

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