Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude always makes one feel better but the following list is some of the ways it’s been proven to help.

  1. Gratitude opens doors to more relationships in one’s life. A 2004 study in Emotion found thanking new acquaintances make them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship. Be sure to send that thank you note and acknowledge someone holding the elevator door or letting you step ahead of them in line!
  2. Gratitude enhances physical health. Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other folks, a 2012 study in Personality and Individual Differences. They also have better self care practices, exercise more often and follow through on regular check-ups.
  3. Gratitude improves psychological health and reduces toxic emotions such as envy, resentment, frustration and regret. Robert Emmons, a researcher who conducts gratitude studies, says it increases well-being and happiness and decreases depression.
  4. Gratitude enhances empathy and decreases aggressions. A 2012 study by the University of Kentucky found that people with a conscious sense of gratitude were more likely to behave in a prosocial manner and less likely to retaliate to negative interactions or feedback. They also had increased sensitivity, empathy and a decreased desire for revenge.
  5. Gratitude helps you sleep better. Keeping a gratitude journal 15 min. before bed has shown to promote better quality sleep found a 2011 study in Applied Psychology and Well-Being.
  6. Gratitude increases self-esteem. A 2014 study in the Journal of Applied Sports Psychology found that athletes with gratitude practices had higher self-esteem which tended to translate into higher performance. It also reduces social comparisons, a mine field for shaky self-worth, and helps one to appreciate other’s accomplishments.
  7. Gratitude increases mental strength, decreases stress and helps overcome trauma. A 2003 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found gratitude to be the major contributor to resilience after the terrorist attacks on September 11. Noticing what one does have to be grateful for, even during the worst times, fosters resilience.

*Adapted from Psychology Today

Happiness and the Role Gratitude Plays

So it turns out our brains aren’t wired to see the “glass half full.” Instead there is the negativity bias. Thousands of years back it gave humans the advantage by training the brain to see the danger signs and avoid harm or death. Now it means we are hardwired to notice and store negative experiences more than positive ones. Negative and positive comments are actually processed in different hemispheres of the brain and the negative ones typically require more processing and attention setting the stage for even further rumination. There are some strategies to overcome this bias. Taking the time daily to look for something that makes you smile, laugh or cultivates feelings of love or gratitude and taking a photo. Look at the photo at the end of the day, and again at the end of the week all together. This process trans the brain to watch for moments to capture, refocusing one’s attention on the positive, meaningful parts of the day and away from stress and negativity.

Another technique is a centering exercise designed to shift thinking from “I’ll be happy once all the great things I want to happen, happen,” which pushes happiness into the future rather than noticing what is currently pleasant and positive in one’s life. Mindfulness meditation, which has been shown to increase activity in the left part of the frontal region or the brain the area responsible for positive emotions like optimism. Ralph De La Rosa, meditation teacher, therapist and author of The Monkey is the Messenger, suggests the the “5-3-1-1” practice first thing in the morning. While in bed, take five slow, steady, conscious breaths. Think of three things you’re grateful for. Smile one real smile. Set one intention for your day. Developing simple but positive habits like this not only set a clear tone for the day, help you be more present and optimistic it may also help boost energy levels and work performance. When you focus on the present good, you’re actually more likely to excel!

Some Thoughts on Gratitude

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, I find myself thinking more and more about gratitude and the role it plays in our lives. Most of us can easily identify big moments of gratitude whether in the form of protection; a near miss of a collision while driving, a clean and clear outcome on a health screening, the birth of a healthy baby, as well as things going our way with promotions/salary increases, getting accepted to our top college pick, approval on the financing for the purchase of our dream house. But what about the quieter, more subtle moments? How many of us truly begin and end our days with consistent thoughts of gratitude? What about the spaces in between. How often do we notice all the objects in our midst that help accommodate our lives? I love what Mr. Iyengar says about attachment (raga), the fusion and over identification between the ego and an object in it’s possession. It is so easy to become attached to objects due to status, beauty or even deep personal meaning. Iyengar advises that the correct attitude to our possessions is gratitude, not ownership. For example toward our car we are grateful that it transports us safely and allows us to see places we would not otherwise have seen, rather than being an extension of self, displaying status, style or privilege. This computer I’m typing on is an instrument of communication and a means of expression instead of the slickest new technology I’m cool enough to posses. Whether it is “my” car or computer is irrelevant.

In India there is a annual ceremony in which participants garland their household objects and thank them for the service they render. This ritual conveys a belief that they “borrow” the object’s services for a certain time and are grateful. It’s a lovely practice and may prove helpful in reminding us that we are not the sum of our stuff, yet we remain consciously and consistently grateful for the service they provide and the ease they bring.