Practicing gratitude helps us to feel better about our lives and allows us to find the comfort we seek everywhere else, within ourselves.
Doing a daily gratitude practice is also good for your overall wellbeing and comes with some surprising health benefits. Here are a few of them:
1. Releases Toxic Emotions
A recent research study found that those who wrote gratitude letters and used fewer negative emotion words reported significantly better mental health. Feelings of gratitude are linked to an increase in the neural modulation of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for managing negative emotions like guilt, shame, and violence.
As a result, gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. When you focus on how grateful you are for the positive experiences in life, it becomes harder for you to ruminate on the negative ones.
2. Improves Mood
People who regularly express gratitude are shown to have improved self-esteem and a more positive outlook overall. Emily Fletcher, the founder of Ziva, referred to gratitude as a ‘natural antidepressant’. When we express or receive gratitude, our brain releases the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. In the book ‘Grateful Brain,’ author Alex Korb said that our brain is conditioned to function in a repeated way and that our mind cannot focus on positive and negative information at the same time.
Practising gratitude can re-wire the brain to favour positive thought patterns over negative emotions and thoughts. Gratitude also reduces stress hormones like cortisol and manages the autonomic nervous system functions which in turn reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety.
3. Strengthens Relationships
People who practice gratitude have reported feeling more loved and more connected to others in their lives. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge. Couple studies have also indicated that partners who expressed gratitude to each other often experienced mutual trust, loyalty and had long-lasting, happy relationships.
4. Improves Physical Health
Gratitude improves physical health. Grateful people are more likely to eat well and exercise more often and are more likely to attend regular check-ups, which is likely to contribute to their overall health.
Grateful people also experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences.
Gratitude improves sleep quality – Studies have shown that gratitude activates the hypothalamus and regulates all bodily mechanisms controlled by it, including sleep.
5. Builds Resilience
Gratitude builds emotional resilience by:
- Creating a positive and hopeful outlook on life
- Breaking pessimistic thought patterns
- Staying grounded in the present
- Identifying solutions
- Strengthening relationships and support systems
Gratitude and Grief
Grieving with gratitude lets us appreciate what we still have. If you don’t get the exam results or job you were hoping for, being thankful for your family and friends, who support you when you are feeling low, can help you cope better with setbacks and disappointment.
Keeping a gratitude jar or journal after the loss of a loved one can help you to preserve their memory and feel grateful for the time you had with them. Writing thank you notes, cherished advice and special moments you are grateful to have had with them, acknowledges all of the good things that person brought into your life that continue to be a source of comfort to you after they’re gone.
An Attitude of Gratitude
We all have the ability to develop an “attitude of gratitude”. Rather than focusing on acquiring the things you want or feel you deserve, spend a few moments taking stock of all that you have, acknowledging your assets and appreciating the areas of your life where you already feel fulfilled.
Ways to cultivate gratitude
- Write thank-you notes.
- Keep a gratitude jar or journal.
- Count your blessings. Pick a time every day or once a week to write about what you are grateful for.
- Use mindfulness meditations to take stock of what you’re grateful for and focus on the present moment without judgment.
Remember: that it takes time to feel the benefits of gratitude. Gratitude is linked with self-discipline and motivation. It may not give us instant relief from pain and stress, but over time it puts us in charge of our own feelings, responses and lives.