What are you grateful for? Please take just a few moments and think of three to six things (or people) you appreciate, that make your life better, that you’re learning from, or that simply reveal to you how life is a gift… Even better, write them down! Being thankful just feels good, doesn’t it? It’s heartwarming. And we also know—from research over the past 15 years—that gratitude can help enhance long-term well-being.
The Health Benefits of Being Thankful
Yet it doesn’t just feel good to be thankful; there’s mounting evidence that it is good for you mentally and physically. Some of the more nascent research shows that folks who are more grateful enjoy better sleep, have better heart health, and even have fewer aches and pains. That’s on top of the more established benefits of being thankful like:
- Enhancing well-being
- Making people happier (by between 10% and 25%)
- Increasing optimism for the future
- Boosting life satisfaction and contentment
- Improving positivity
- Improving decision-making abilities
- Increasing goal attainment
- Increasing productivity
- Boosting impulse control
- Feeling more loved
- Increasing kindness and empathy
- Improving feelings of connection and satisfaction
- Improving relationships
- Building and strengthening social bonds and friendships
- Improving self-esteem for optimal performance
- Decreasing stress
- Soothing the nervous system
- Encouraging self-care
- Improving mental strength and resilience
- Helping prevent and ease depression and possibly suicidal thoughts
- Encouraging patience, humility, and wisdom
Gratitude may also mitigate negative feelings as it’s believed to be incompatible with negative states. In other words, being thankful may help suppress feelings of anger, aggression, irritation, greed, jealousy, regret, or resentment. It also appears to make people less materialistic.
While we certainly encourage making gratitude a daily practice, it’s worth noting that the benefits of being grateful can be obtained by weekly sessions as well. Even more, after you have gotten into the habit for several weeks or months, benefits can endure for up to six months later. Unlike instant gratification, which dissipates rather quickly, making gratitude a habit can lead to more sustained happiness.
How Does Being Thankful Affect Physical Health?
For one, grateful folks tend to take better care of themselves. They’re more likely to take protective health measures like exercising regularly, getting more hours of quality sleep, eating healthier, and seeing their health-care practitioners more regularly. All of these factors can lead to a bounty of health and wellness benefits, including feeling more vital, energetic, and enthusiastic to name just a few. These steps may even heighten immunity.
In addition, grateful people report fewer negative physical symptoms like coughing, dizziness, gastrointestinal problems (including stomachaches), headaches, nausea, respiratory infections, runny noses, sleeping disturbances, or even pain. However, since some of the research only shows associations, the researchers weren’t able to determine if gratitude led to healthier people or if healthier people are simply more grateful—or if something else is influencing the improved health.
New research, however, examined people who had kept an online gratitude journal over a two-week period and discovered they also reported improved overall health, including a reduction of headaches, stomach pain, blood pressure, and congestion, along with clearer skin.
Another study looked at college students who wrote down what they were grateful for on a weekly basis for 10 weeks. The students also reported having less headaches, shortness of breath, sore muscles, and nausea compared to students who were instead instructed to describe daily events or frustrations.
One theory on why gratitude is able to do so much is because altruistic intent (i.e., doing something nice for others) activates the hypothalamus, which is the part of the brain responsible for regulating bodily functions like appetite, growth, metabolism, sleep, and temperature. Plus, kind acts and being thankful appear to release the neurotransmitter dopamine, which helps relieve pain and is involved in attention, motivation, memory, and reward.
Being Thankful for a Good Night’s Sleep
There are numerous theories on why being thankful may help improve physical health. One of the most intriguing is that people who are grateful seem to sleep better. And sleep is so very vital to mental and physical health.
Research has found that even people who have heart failure and chronic pain report improved sleep, despite their condition, if they’re grateful. Those who were grateful fell asleep faster, slept longer, had better overall sleep quality, and found it easier to stay awake during the day.
So, if you’ve been counting sheep to help you sleep, you may want to start counting your blessings instead.
How to Practice Gratitude Every Day?
If gratitude comes easily to you, this may seem obvious. Yet a lot of people consider themselves natural pessimists. And others may resist expressing gratitude (perhaps because they’re afraid others may think they’re trying to get something, be manipulative, or are fake or insincere). And for those folks, gratitude may not come so easily. Fortunately, anyone can cultivate more gratitude.
First off, when someone does something nice, don’t just mumble “thank you” or ignore the gesture altogether. Invest in the moment it takes to consider the gain, consider its meaning to you, savor the influence, and then recognize the giver. This can be something small (like a server handing you your morning coffee or someone holding the door for you) or large (like that big job promotion or help with moving).
The point is to recognize what’s making your life more enjoyable and satisfying and genuinely appreciate that. Whether you gain a new friend or not, you could still be lifting your and someone else’s just by being polite and sincerely saying thank you.
Beyond saying thanks, cultivating a personal gratitude practice may be one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself. All you need to do is pick a frequency that works for you. That can be every day (on your commute home from work or before bed, for example), once every few days, or even just once at the end of each week.
It doesn’t matter what you’re thankful for; this is just for you. And it doesn’t need to be wordy or complex. You simply need to think about what you’re thankful for, and better yet, write it down in a gratitude journal.
You can also surround yourself with photos, notes, souvenirs, and other visual reminders of what you’re grateful for, such as family and loved ones, pets, a special vacation or award, or even a positive note from your boss or a co-worker.
Another technique is to ask yourself “What went well?” at the end of each day with the goal of coming up with three specific things and why they stood out. Or, you can begin a gratitude meditation or prayer session when you simply count your blessings.
Whatever you decide to do, you’ll want to keep it up. Studies that lasted only a week or two haven’t always demonstrated the same positive effects on physical health as studies that lasted over 10 weeks to several months.
For a bonus assignment, especially great for building social bonds, acknowledge the people in your life you’re grateful for. Take a minute to thank a co-worker for lending a hand on a project (and ask how you can better help in return). Or, just thank them because you enjoy working with them. Set up time to meet with a friend or family member to thank them for their thoughtfulness. Or, send a thank you note—even if it’s just because you’re thankful someone is in your life.
Lastly, thank you for taking the time to read this blog article and for being a part of the BioTRUST Tribe. We so appreciate you and the time you’re investing in your health and fitness! You are amazing, and we are so grateful for you!