The key to changing your life for the better might sound really woo-woo but if you let it, you could find that what they say about practicing gratitude is true: your life will never be the same. What does it mean to practice gratitude? Literally being thankful. Writing it down, saying it out loud, simply being intentional about thinking through what you’re grateful for. The evidence is in, and science says YES to gratitude for many reasons.
Health Benefits of Practicing Gratitude
More happiness. For starters, researchers at Harvard found that “giving thanks can make you happier.” Noticing the goodness in your life often leads to the understanding that goodness is all around you, outside of yourself. As a result, being grateful leads people to connect to something larger than themselves, whether that’s a community, nature or a higher power.
Higher self esteem. The Journal of Applied Sport Psychology discovered that grateful athletes not only suffered less agony over comparing themselves to others, but were also able to enjoy the accomplishments of other people.
Pyschology Today reports that gratitude can open the door for new and stronger relationships.
“Not only does saying ‘thank you’ constitute good manners, but showing appreciation can help you win new friends, according to a 2014 study published in Emotion. The study found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship. So whether you thank a stranger for holding the door or send a thank-you note to that colleague who helped you with a project, acknowledging other people’s contributions can lead to new opportunities.”
Gratitude can help strengthen friendships and romantic partnerships too. In fact, one study focused on couples in romantic relationships specifically. Those who took time to express gratitude for their partner felt more positive toward that person. And that same gratitude effect worked when things got rocky: those partners felt more comfortable expressing concerns about the relationship. It’s one thing to tell your partner how much you enjoyed the meal they made, and entirely another to make it clear that nobody on God’s green earth wants to fold someone else’s laundry. Both convos require a level of closeness, and gratitude can get you there.
The Mayo Clinic reports a host of physical health benefits to expressing gratitude. Studies have shown that feeling thankful can:
- improve sleep, mood and immunity
- decrease depression, anxiety, difficulties with chronic pain and risk of disease
Researchers are still learning about the relationship between gratitude and health, but one projects such as Thnx4 found that:
“Participants who kept an online gratitude journal for two weeks reported better physical health, including fewer headaches, less stomach pain, clearer skin, and reduced congestion. These results are consistent with a 2003 paper published by Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough. In that study, college students who wrote about things they were grateful for just once a week for ten weeks reported fewer physical symptoms (such as headaches, shortness of breath, sore muscles, and nausea) than students who wrote about daily events or hassles.”
5 Ways to Practice Gratitude Daily
- Keep a journal. This is just as straightforward as it sounds. Buy a journal and really write in it (don’t avoid actually using the journal because it’s too pretty.) Keep it next to your bed and every morning, before you even get out of bed, jot down 3 things you’re grateful for. This can be big: Thank you for my health. My friends are wonderful. My body is strong and healthy. It can be small: My towels are fresh and fluffy. That peach flavored tea last night was delish. It love› the way my dog looks at me. It doesn’t matter. Writing your positive thoughts starts your day on a positive plane.
- Give compliments. Your mother already mentioned this and she was right! Say “thank you” to the barista. Tell someone how cute their outfit is. Share a story about someone while they can hear you. Boosting other people is another way to boost your own energy.
- Write a letter. Remember that teacher who always encouraged you? What about a boss who put up with more than their fair share of drama? Every week, consider someone who’s helped you along the way but might not have been properly thanked. Write to them and if you can, deliver the letter! But for a daily dose of gratitude, simply notice one person doing one good thing each day. It might be for you, and it might be for someone else, or the world! Either way, keep your eyes trained on those who are doing good.
- Consider your childhood. This can be very powerful because most of us have painful memories at some point in our childhoods but the point of this exercise is to go through an old photo album and focus on one photo each day. What can you be thankful about? Whether it’s something present in the photo (a birthday cake, etc.) or jogs your memory of something else (for example, loving a neighborhood), your mind is focused on gratitude. No family photos around? Scroll through more recent photos on your phone, using the same technique.
- Keep a food journal. This is particularly for foodies, but write down the BEST thing you eat every day. What’s so good about it? Is the chicken particularly crispy? Is the lemon vinaigrette making your salad sing? Many of us live luxurious lives, simply by having access to fresh food and water. Keeping track trains your brain to remember that.
Practicing gratitude in both small and grand ways can positively impact your daily life. Don’t wait until tomorrow to get started, grab a notepad and write 3 things you’re grateful for and watch your day turn around for the better.
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