Why gratitude is good for you
How often do you feel gratitude? We may feel instinctively that gratitude as part of our mindset will be good for us, but studies into this back up that gut instinct too. Research – see the work of Robert Emmons, a leading scientific expert on gratitude, and his colleagues – tells us that experiencing gratitude is beneficial for both our physical and psychological well-being, as well as having a positive effect on our relationships.
A study of more than a thousand people, from ages eight to 80, found that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits, including stronger immune systems, improved sleep, lower blood pressure, exercise more; have higher levels of positive emotions; are more helpful, generous and compassionate and are less lonely and isolated. They typically used a ‘gratitude journal’, in which participants regularly recorded the things they were grateful for.
Experiencing gratitude means that we are acknowledging that there is good in the world, that’s outside of our selves – other people or nature or a ‘higher power’ – and that’s given us a gift, a blessing, a welcome feeling etc. to bring goodness to our own lives.
In addition to the foregoing, with a grateful disposition, we’re more likely to:
- Notice and appreciate the positive, the good things in life.
- Have less room for negative emotions.
- Negotiate adversity and negative life events more easily.
Gratitude can also contribute to our sense of self-worth, since someone/something else is looking out for us, and has provided for our well-being, a relationship we have has enriched our lives, which is likely to be good for how we feel about ourselves.
One way to cultivate gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal, as people have done in Emmons’ experiments. We can list just three good things that have happened to us today that we’re grateful for. Or do so on a weekly basis if that’s preferable. This practice means we are consciously, intentionally focusing our attention, what we give power and energy to, on developing more grateful thinking. (Let’s remember that energy follows focus: What we focus on we give energy to, and what we give energy to we cultivate.)
It helps guard against taking things for granted; instead, we can see gifts in life as new and meaningful. If we can live a life of pervasive thankfulness – not always easy for sure if we’re struggling with life events, low mood or whatever - we are more likely to experience a more fulfilling existence.
Alternatively, or in addition, practice counting your blessings on a regular basis, maybe first thing in the morning, maybe in the evening. What are you grateful for today? You don’t have to write them down on paper.
Lastly, let’s ask ourselves how high our expectations are of what life should be like, how things should go etc (and how helpful they are). And do we sometimes suffer from an elevated sense of entitlement? The ‘truths of life’ for Steve Peters – the Chimp Paradox guy – are ‘life isn't fair’; ‘The goalposts move’ and ‘there are no guarantees’. How grateful might we be about what life offered us if we were able to assume these ‘truths’?
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About Marc Kirby
Marc has been involved in training, coaching and developing people for over 30 years. His interest is in supporting individuals to make the most of themselves; to maximise their potential; to perform to their best and to live their lives to the full. He is a director at Stress Management Plus, based in Reading, Berkshire.