10 benefits of a gratitude practice
When was the last time you stopped to think about what you’re grateful for? All this involves is thinking about the positive things in your life and how thankful you are for them. It sounds incredibly simple, but the benefits of doing this (in some form or another) has some big benefits.
A growing body of research is showing that gratitude may be one of the most powerful ways of boosting happiness. A 2009 study from National Institutes of Health (NIH) has even found that our hypothalamus (the part of our brain that regulates several bodily functions) is activated when we feel gratitude or are kind to others. This means, essentially, gratitude helps us function.
When we feel grateful, we’re also rewarded with a hit of dopamine – a feel-good chemical. This encourages us to do it again and again, so once you start, it’s easy to keep the habit up.
Here we want to delve deeper into some of the benefits of practising gratitude before sharing different ways you can start your own practice and start reaping the rewards.
The benefits of practising gratitude
1. It makes us happier
This is the area a lot of researchers focus on and the one with perhaps the most concrete results. A leading researcher in this area, Robert Emmons has found through his work and multiple studies that gratitude does indeed increase happiness and reduce feelings of depression. Gratitude has also been found to reduce other negative emotions, including envy, resentment and even regret.
This makes sense as when we’re feeling grateful, it’s difficult to feel anything negative. By practising gratitude regularly as well, we get into a habit of being thankful for what we’ve got, even if it’s not exactly what we wanted.
2. It reduces stress
Gratitude has been found to help us regulate our emotions better, and this is an integral part of managing stress. Looking at participants’ heart rates before, during and after practising gratitude, a 2017 study published in Scientific Reports found that heart rates decreased. Our heart rate decreasing is linked to us feeling calmer, so it’s easy to see the link here.
So, the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed, make it a priority to close your eyes and run through a list of things you feel grateful for in this moment. It may feel difficult, but it will likely help to calm you down and put things into perspective.
3. It improves self-esteem
It turns out thinking about what we’re thankful for can help us feel better about ourselves. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology looked into the effect practising gratitude had on athletes and found it increased their self-esteem. It’s also been found that those who are grateful more often tend to appreciate other people’s accomplishments more, rather than comparing.
If comparison and low self-esteem come up for you, taking a moment to think about what you do have can help ease these feelings and promote positivity.
4. It helps us be more resilient
Resilience is a key component of our mental well-being and gratitude could play a role here too. As well as reducing stress, gratitude may help us overcome trauma. A 2006 study published in Behaviour Research and Therapy found that war veterans who felt higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder.
If you’re dealing with a major life upheaval, you may find it helpful to think about what you’re grateful for to help you zoom out of what’s happening right now.
5. It helps us sleep
Ending your day on a positive note could help you sleep better and for longer. A 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being found that all it takes is 15 minutes of writing about what you’re grateful for to have a positive impact on your sleep.
If you don’t already have a journaling practice and you struggle to sleep, it’s certainly worth a try. You may find it helpful to note down any remaining thoughts or worries about the day that’s gone by and then spending some time writing about what you’re grateful for. This can help clear your mind and leave you feeling positive as you head to bed.
6. It improves our physical health
Those who practise gratitude have been found to exercise more regularly and get check-ups more often. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences found that these people also experience fewer aches and pains and generally feel healthier than those who do not practise gratitude.
When we recognise what we’re thankful for, we’re more able to see the value of things like physical health. This can prompt us to take care of it better and lead to these amazing results.
7. It improves our romantic relationships
Practising gratitude has a ripple effect and impacts those around us. A 2013 study by Algoe, Fredrickson and Gable found that by expressing gratitude to our partners, we improve the quality of our relationship.
It sounds obvious, but when was the last time you told your partner how grateful you are for them? Make a note to express gratitude more regularly to give your relationship a boost.
8. It improves our friendships
As well as improving our romantic relationships, gratitude has an effect on our friendships too. A 2011 study by Lambert and Fincham discovered that those who communicate their gratitude with friends are more likely to talk through any concerns or problems they come up against and have a more positive perception of their friends.
This is perhaps due to the fact that gratitude reduces aggression and enhances empathy, a result found via a series of five 2012 studies published in Social Psychology and Personality Science.
9. It makes us better managers
This additional empathy gratitude gives us could also explain why it helps us in the workplace. Research from Stone and Stone (1983) found that practising gratitude enhances our ability to give praise, motivate others and guide employees.
More recent research from DeSteno, Li, Dickens and Lerner (2014) has also found that those who experience gratitude are less likely to be impatient when it comes to economic decision making.
So if you’re looking to improve your skills as a manager, it could be as simple as starting a regular gratitude practice.
10. It helps us find more meaning in our work
Having meaning in our work helps us feel more passionate and fulfilled day-to-day, and gratitude could play a role in this. Research from Dik, Duffy, Allan, O’Donnell, Shim and Steger (2014) found that gratitude is one factor that can help people find meaning in their work, alongside finding their ‘calling’, applying their strengths and experiencing positive emotions and flow.
Feeling grateful alone may not help you feel more fulfilled at work, but it plays a key role and is certainly worth adding to your arsenal.
How to start a gratitude practice
Hopefully, by now you’ve seen why so many people in the personal development world wax lyrical about gratitude – it certainly is a powerful thing. If this has inspired you to start your own regular gratitude practice, here are some tips to get you started.
Consider your method
How do you want to practise gratitude? Starting a gratitude journal and writing things down is a popular option, but you may want to try something different like adding notes of gratitude to a jar and reading them back when you need a boost. You may even want to introduce gratitude to your meditation practice. Try some different methods and find which approach works best for you.
Stack it on top of an existing habit
To help you keep up with your new practice, try anchoring it to a habit you already have. You may want to add writing a gratitude list to your existing journaling habit or run through five things you’re grateful for while in the shower. If you can stack it on top of another habit, you’ll likely find it easier to maintain.
When you first start your gratitude practice, it may feel easy as you think about your health, family or job. To really get the most out of this practice though, try to be specific and drill down. What was it about your day at work today that made you feel grateful? What did your friend do to make you thankful for their existence in your life?
Try to think of different things
It’s easy to fall into the trap of repeating the same thing again and again when we think about what we’re thankful for. Over time this can make it lose its shine and fall into the background. Challenge yourself to think of something different every day. Being specific can really help here.
Share your gratitude with others
The great thing about gratitude is that it only gets better when we share it with others. As we’ve learnt here, expressing gratitude to others can improve relationships, so why not get into the habit of saying thank you more often? You might even want to write a letter or send a small gift to let someone know you’re thankful for them. This will brighten up their day and yours.
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