If there is one simple shift that you can make towards improved health and wellbeing practicing gratitude should be it. Even in the midst of challenging times, making space to notice who and what you have in your life, what is working, what is still good, has far reaching benefits. Practicing gratitude is not simply saying “thank you”, it’s about cultivating a genuine appreciation and making this a lifestyle, that is moving from a state of being thankful to developing the trait of consciously and regularly acknowledging the good in your world.
Scientific studies have repeatedly shown that simple gratitude journaling for a few minutes a day or a few times a week can significantly impact emotional well-being, increasing overall level of happiness for the long term, decreasing negative mood and symptoms of depression and anxiety and increasing self-esteem.
How is this possible?
The exciting truth that neuroscience has repeatedly proven is that practicing gratitude literally rewires your brain and further impacts the release of “feel good” chemicals. The more you practice, the more the brain changes and the more these chemicals get released as well. If that seems a bit far fetched to understand, watch the accompanying video below.
Regular gratitude practice moves us away from the road of rumination and chronic negative thoughts and ways of processing events. Besides decreasing negative emotions and increasing your happiness quotient, studies have also shown the incredible benefits of cultivating gratitude for one’s physical health. Gratitude helps to build resilience and buffers a person against stress and burnout. Weekly gratitude journaling has also been shown to lower blood pressure and improve symptoms of hypertension. Study participants who engage in various forms of gratitude practice also report less fatigue, more energy and better sleep quality. A decrease in cellular inflammation and better recovery from injury and or illness has been found in patients who included regular gratitude exercises along with their medical treatment.
Some interesting research on self control and gratitude shows that people who are grateful tend to delay future rewards, that is they do not give in so readily to instant gratification. This not only means that they are less materialistic or can manage their finances more effectively but the correlation between gratitude and self control extends to health related behaviors as well. People who practice gratitude appear to have a better ability to make healthier food choices and tend to exercise more regularly as well. This is great news if you have had difficulty with motivation and fulfilling your health goals in the past.
That’s not all…
Beyond all of these amazing individual benefits, research shows that cultivating the trait of gratitude helps to improve one’s level of patience, humility and wisdom, attributes that make for much healthier social relationships. Making time to be aware of the moment by moment ways in which our loved ones add value despite difficulties that we might be facing, facilitates deeper connection and quality of relationship. People who are more appreciative of others have a wider social network and therefore more social support and are seen as more trustworthy.
In the workplace practicing gratitude as a group can improve employees’ sense of meaning and purpose, help them to feel more valued and supported, increase their job satisfaction, and decrease work-related stress. If you are in a leadership role, you will be particularly interested to know that practicing gratitude has been shown to improve managerial skills, and the ability to motivate and mentor others.
All of these benefits of gratitude are ours to reap regardless if we choose overt practices in which we explicitly share our appreciation or even if we prefer more covert avenues such as simply writing about and reflecting on them for ourselves personally and privately. These benefits also have a synergistic effect, they grow and compound and you might not even notice initially but after a few weeks and months of consistent and regular practice, you most definitely will!
Claudette is a Psychologist, Stress Management and Wellness Coach and Public Speaker. She is a registered practitioner with multifaceted clinical experience working with individuals, groups and businesses.