Expressions of gratitude go beyond extending appreciation with a simple thank you. Instead, gratitude is a feeling, an emotion, an attitude, a way of living, and a daily practice that inspires a shift in perspective. In fact, it's such a profound quality that scientists have studied its impact and found evidence linking gratitude to positive body, mind, and soul health benefits.
Discovering a practice of gratitude can come about in a myriad of ways. For some gratitude can stem from pleasant weather, a satiating meal, and human connection, for others, it is attributed to a new lease on life following a health scare, loss, grief, or change. No matter what or whom you’re grateful for, searching for gratitude can ignite transformation from the inside out. Here are a few of the health benefits of gratitude to jumpstart your practice.
Gratitude Health Benefits
- Boosts Immunity
The gifts of gratitude and mindfulness can physically and mentally alter you, fortunately for the better. A growing body of science suggests that gratitude can decrease inflammation and improve markers of heart healthi. Additionally, a 2003 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found participants who kept gratitude journals reported fewer health complaints, spent more time exercising, and had fewer symptoms of physical illnessii. Next time you’re looking to make healthier habits try focusing on what you’re grateful for. An appreciation for life and the people around you could inspire you to eat healthier, workout more, and relax.
- Improves Mental Health
Acts of mindfulness have been shown to positively activate neural pathways in the brainiii. Similarly, meditation and expressing gratitude can boost dopamine and serotonin, while decreasing cortisol, which aids in improved mood and positive feelingsiv. Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis and a leading scientific expert in the science of gratitude found that,“gratitude blocks toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret and depression, which can destroy our happiness.v"
- Enhances Empathy
It’s clear that gratitude is a gateway to positive emotions and these benefits can extend beyond the individual cultivating gratitude in their life. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, and through gratitude, individuals can increase their emotional intelligence which lends to greater compassion and understanding of others. Those who are grateful are more adept at giving others, and themselves, grace in the face of challenging times or deep feelings.vi
- Aids in Better Sleep
A good night’s sleep is essential for greater health and happiness. Poor sleep quality, or lack thereof, has been shown to result in increased stress, weight gain, a decrease in immune system function, and more long-term health consequencesvii. Fortunately getting better quality sleep may be as simple as taking time to be thankful. One study showed that students who participated in a gratitude journal exercise for 15 minutes nightly, were able to release worries, and stress, and clear their minds before resting – ultimately resulting in better sleepviii.
- Improved Relationships
Gratitude is how we value others, so it’s of little surprise that an increase in gratitude results in improved relationships. Expressing gratitude shows that you care. From a kind gesture to an acquaintance or coworker, to saying thank you with a small gift to a partner and loved one, you increase your social bond and signal a positive exchange. Gratitude also has the power to improve relationships with those who are no longer living, or in your daily life. At the end of a relationship or a loss, finding gratitude for the good times, memories shared, and lessons learned creates a shift in perspective that grows into healing and acceptance.
- Increases Self-Esteem
It is often said that comparison is the thief of joy. And if that is true, then it is gratitude that recovers joy. Finding gratitude for your life, right now, is an act of cultivating appreciation. In a world of social media that highlights the best moments of someone's life, vacation, promotion, graduation and more, creates a counterproductive cycle of comparison. Creating a loop of positive psychology through gratitude allows you to highlight the small and big wins in your life, alike.
How to Practice Gratitude
Tap into the power of gratitude through grounding practices. Keeping a gratitude journal is one of the most common ways to make thankfulness a habit. Journaling is known to increase well-being and having a place to jot down what or whom you're grateful for exercises the muscle of gratitude daily. If journaling isn’t quite filling your cup with gratitude, you might try meditation with a mantra of gratitude coursing through your practice. And of course, reaching out via text, email, or phone call to say thank you is an easy and rewarding way to share gratitude.
There is no right or wrong way to live in gratitude but carrying the feeling with you increases joy. As thankfulness grows, and blossoms, it branches out to the world around us. Start the chain today and being with gratitude.
1. (2016, November 21). Study: Gratitude is a healthy attitude. American Heart Associations News. https://news.heart.org/study-gratitude-is-a-healthy-attitude/
2. Emmons, Robert A. McCullough, Michael E. (2003). Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life. American Psychological Association. Inc. https://emmons.faculty.ucdavis.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/90/2015/08/2003_2-Emmons_McCullough_2003_JPSP.pdf
3. Budson, Andrew E. (2021, May 13) Can mindfulness change your brain? Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/can-mindfulness-change-your-brain-202105132455
4. Perreau-Linc, Elisabeth; Beauregard, Mario; Gravel, Paul; BEng; Paquette, Vincent; Soucy, Jean-Paul; Diksic, Mirko; Benkelfat, Chawki. (2007). In vivo measurements of brain tapping of C-labelled µ-methyl-L-tryptophan during acute changes in mood states, 32(6).
Tomljenović, Helena; Begix, Drazen; Mastrovic, Zora. (2016). Charges in trait brainwave power and coherence, state and trait anxiety after three-month transcendental meditation (TM) practice.
Mosini, Amanda Cristina; Saadm, Marcelo; Braghetta, Camilla Casaletti; de Medeiros, Roberta; Peres, Mario Fernando Prieto; Leāo, Frederico Camelo. (2019). Neurophysiological, cognitive-behavioral and neurochemical effects in practitioners of transcendental meditation.
5. 2015, November 25) Gratitude is Good Medicine. UC Davis Health. https://health.ucdavis.edu/medicalcenter/features/2015-2016/11/20151125_gratitude.html
6. Khorrami, Najma. (2020, October 5). Are Empathy and Gratitude Linked to Each Other? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/comfort-gratitude/202010/are-empathy-and-gratitude-linked-each-other
7. Medic, Goran. Wille, Micheline. Hemels, Michiel EH. (2017, May 19). Short- and long-term health consequences of sleep disruption. Nat Sci Sleep. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5449130/
8. Digdon, Nancy. Koble, Amy. (2011, May) Effects of Constructive Worry, Imagery Distraction, and Gratitude Interventions on Sleep Quality: A Pilot Trial. Applied Psychology Health and Well-Being. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/230206205_Effects_of_Constructive_Worry_Imagery_Distraction_and_Gratitude_Interventions_on_Sleep_Quality_A_Pilot_Trial