The health benefits of gratitude

The simple task of acknowledging what we have to be grateful for offers a surprising number of health benefits, but it doesn’t come naturally to all of us. It’s important to make a conscious decision to incorporate a gratitude practice into our daily lives.

Here’s why:

  • Gratitude improves physical health: In general, grateful people report fewer aches and pains and greater overall health than others. They are also more likely to have lifestyle habits that promote good health, such as exercising regularly and attending health check-ups more often.
  • Gratitude improves mental health: Being grateful can help replace negative emotions that so easily find their way into our daily thoughts. Anger, resentment, frustration, sadness and stress can all be minimized when we shift our perspective toward the positive.
  • Gratitude enhances empathy and improves social connections: Grateful people tend to treat others with kindness, even when they aren’t receiving the same in return. Instead of responding with aggression, they are better able to empathize and keep their cool, which can have a domino effect on everyone they interact with. Grateful people also tend to attract a wider social circle, which can have significant impacts on psychological wellbeing.
  • Gratitude improves sleep: Studies have shown that individuals who take a few moments to jot down things for which they are grateful before going to bed tend to sleep better and for longer. Plus, it will never hurt to end your day on a positive note!
  • Gratitude improves self-esteem: Constantly comparing yourself to others can leave you feeling jealous, anxious and less satisfied with your own life. Practicing gratitude for what you are able to do/afford/experience makes what others are doing less important to your overall sense of wellbeing.

How does it work?

While there is a clear connection between gratitude and healthier, happier people, the mechanisms behind how gratitude helps physical health are not totally clear. It does seem that grateful people are inspired to live healthier lifestyles — not smoking, eating well and exercising more often. Improvements to sleep could certainly play a role, as could the stress-buffering effect of counting our blessings. The social connections fostered through gratitude can also pave the way for long-lasting health improvements. While the explanation might be up for debate, the benefits of gratitude are varied and well worth the moment or two it takes to think about all we have to be grateful for each day.

Start today:

Start a gratitude journal and make note of three specific things every day for which you are grateful.  Reap extra benefits by making your list as you go to bed. Keep a paper copy, start a note in your smartphone or just make a mental note if you’d like to keep it private.  Boost your workplace wellness by installing a Wall of Gratitude and encourage co-workers to leave sticky notes throughout the week outlining what makes them feel grateful. It could be as simple as a sunny day or a hot cup of coffee!