With Thanksgiving coming up, Americans all over the nation will express their gratitude for the things in life they are most thankful for, but many may not realize that in doing so, they’re also improving the quality of their health and increasing their life expectancies. The scientific evidence is conclusive when it comes to mood, outlook, and health. Happy people live up to 10 years longer than unhappy people, and optimists have a 77% lower risk of heart disease than pessimists.
In one study, one group of participants were asked to name five things they’re grateful for every day, while another group was asked to list five hassles. Those expressing gratitude were not only happier and more optimistic, they reported fewer physical symptoms (such as headache, cough, nausea, or acne). Other gratitude studies have shown that those with chronic illnesses demonstrate clinical improvement when practicing regular gratitude.
Severely depressed people instructed to list grateful thoughts on a website daily were found to be significantly less depressed by the end of the study when compared to depressed people who weren’t asked to express gratitude. And we know that depression is a significant risk factor for disease.
How Does Gratitude Boost Happiness?
Promotes savoring of positive life experiences
Bolsters self-worth and self-esteem
Helps people cope with stress and trauma
Encourages caring acts and moral behavior
Helps build social bonds, strengthen existing relationships, and nurture new relationships (and we know lonely people have twice the rate of heart disease as those with strong social connections)
Inhibits harmful comparisons
Diminishes or deters negative feelings such as anger, bitterness, and greed
Thwarts hedonistic adaptation (the ability to adjust your set point to positive new circumstances so that we don’t appreciate the new circumstance and it has little affect on our overall health or happiness)
How to practice gratitude
You don’t have to wait for Thanksgiving to enjoy the benefits to your health and happiness that accompany gratitude.
1. Keep a gratitude journal.
Ponder 3 to 5 things you’re currently grateful for (it’s okay if these are mundane things!) and write them down. Data suggests that doing this once per week may be most beneficial, but if you find that doing it daily works best for you, go for it!
2. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
Journaling may not be your cup of tea, so you might be better off just training yourself to think grateful thoughts. Try noticing one ungrateful thought you have each day and switching it around to something you can be grateful for.
3. Vary your gratitude practice.
Try journaling, thinking grateful thoughts, speaking what you’re grateful for at dinner time, making art about what you’re grateful for, but shake it up! We tend to get bored easily, so the practice of gratitude works better when we change how we’re grateful.
4. Express gratitude directly to others.
Call a friend, write a letter, share your grateful thoughts with family members, or speak to a colleague at work about what you’re grateful for.
What are you thankful for? Share your gratitude here in the comments. And thank you for caring what I write about. I’m super grateful for you!