By now, you’ve probably heard that cultivating a more grateful attitude is good for you, but if you thought it was just a bunch of new age “mumbo jumbo,” think again. Gratitude has scientifically been shown to actually change the brain, making us feel happier and even bringing more positive things into our lives. It’s been shown to have transformational powers that make us more joyful, kinder and even healthier, both physically and mentally.
Gratitude is effective because it helps to trigger other positive emotions which have direct physical benefits. Research has shown that when we think about what we appreciate, the calming part of the nervous system is stimulated, resulting in a number of protective benefits, like reduced cortisol levels and raised levels of “feel good” hormones like oxytocin.
Gratitude journals are becoming increasingly popular – odds are, you know at least one person who has one. According to research out the University of Minnesota and the University of Florida, those who journal by writing a list of positive events and why those events made them happy, managed to dramatically reduce their stress levels, while also providing a greater sense of calm at bedtime for better sleep. But while writing in a journal is a great way to cultivate a more grateful attitude, you can also simply take a moment each day to silently acknowledge all that you have.
Your body feels each thought you think
When you focus on the negative, thinking back to stressful events or worrying about “bad” things that might happen, your body doesn’t know the difference between thinking and doing them – either way, it fires off stress hormones that create the same effects in the body, physically, mentally and emotionally, whether or not the event is actually happening. It has a detrimental effect on all aspects of your health and well-being, as science has shown in numerous studies.
Write in a journal, or just take time to think about all of the things you’re grateful for, from the smell of fresh cut grass or flowers in the spring to the grocery store clerk who asked about your day, or the compliment your boss paid you after finishing that big project. No matter how small, or how big, it will help you focus more on the positive to fight off the stress of negativity, and those detrimental effects.
Building mental strength
Gratitude is like an emotional and mental “muscle,” that can be built up with regular exercise. When things go wrong and that muscle is weak, it can be hard to find a silver lining in the storm, but by strengthening it through a daily gratitude habit, that muscle becomes more resilient so those inevitable bumps in the road won’t knock you off track as much.
Science has shown that being grateful actually improves psychological health. It helps to reduce all sorts of toxic emotions, from guilt and regret to envy and frustration. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., has been called the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. He’s conducted numerous studies on the connection between well-being and gratitude, confirming that it not only improves one’s happiness level, but it reduces depression.
“Gratitude,” Emmons says, “reduces the lifetime risk for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders, and is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide.”
Benefiting Physical Health
We know that reducing stress can benefit our physical health, but gratitude goes even farther than that. A 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences, discovered that those who are grateful tend to have fewer aches and pains. They also report feeling healthier than others and are more likely to take better care of themselves. They are physically active more often as well as more likely to get regular health checkups, further contributing to better overall health and longevity.
Emmons has also noted that “It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep,” in addition to affecting behavior, as those who are grateful tend to have better diets, and are less likely to abuse alcohol or smoke.
High Happiness Scores
Another leading gratitude researcher, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, looked at the impact of a range of positive psychology interventions on more than 400 individuals, each compared with a control assignment of writing focused on early memories. When their assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to a person who they believed they never properly thanked for their kindness, the participants instantly enjoyed a dramatic increase in happiness scores that was greater than what was experienced via any other type of intervention, and those happiness benefits continued for an entire month afterward.
As we mentioned earlier, the stress relief derived from gratitude journaling has was found to produce a calming effect that resulted in better sleep. Another study also confirmed these findings. The 2011 research published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being showed that spending just 15 minutes writing about things that you’re grateful before at bedtime may sleep better and longer.
There have also been studies that have focused on gratitude and relationships. One, from the Department of Psychology at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington found that those who take time to express gratitude to their partner not only tend to feel more positive toward them but also feels more comfortable expressing concerns related to their relationship.
Being grateful to those around you, including the stranger, is also likely to help win you new friends, a research published in Emotion revealed. The experts found that if you thank an acquaintance or a stranger, whether they hold a door open for you, provided advice that helped you finish a project or simply paid you a compliment, that appreciative acknowledgment is likely to lead to new opportunities.
Being grateful naturally helps one to develop a more optimistic attitude which has been found in studies to significantly cut stress levels while improving mental, emotional and physical health. If you’re an optimist, you’re far more likely to lead a happier, more fulfilling, longer life. You’ll be better able to handle whatever life throws at you, including those inevitable bumps in the road, you’ll get more job offers and promotions, you’ll be sick less often and you’re also more likely to live well into old age.
Optimists tend to expect to live longer, an in an analysis of nearly 100,000 women by experts at the University of Pittsburgh, they found that the simple expectation that you’ll live into old age increases your chances of actually doing so. On the other hand, women who were described as highly cynically hostile had increased rates of an earlier death.
Be grateful, always!