Just say thank you! Why an attitude of gratitude can be good for your health
Being thankful for the good things in life can be its own greatest reward.
Being thankful for the good things in life can be its own greatest reward
Looking for an attitude to give you the edge in 2022? Try gratitude.
This may seem glib, considering everything the last two years put us through, but it has the backing of science.
Professor Robert Emmons, founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology, is considered one of the world’s leading scientific experts on gratitude.
In the mid-2000s, he and his team worked with more than 1,000 people between the ages of eight and 80 to study the impact of gratitude on an individual’s lived experience.
They found that keeping a daily gratitude journal, as a reminder of the good things in life, improved people’s physical and psychological wellbeing.
The effects included stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, better sleep, more optimism, joy, and pleasure, and higher energy levels.
Over the course of just two weeks, healthcare practitioners who participated in the study enjoyed sustained reductions in perceived stress and depression.
In other respondents, gratitude was related to a reduction in the sress hormone, cortisol, and patients with congestive heart failure secured a reduction in biomarkers for inflammation.
The positive outcomes weren’t limited to the individual’s physical and psychological experience. Emmons found that practising gratitude also had an important social benefit.
Respondents who took part in the study reported feeling more helpful, generous, forgiving, and outgoing. They also felt less lonely and isolated.
In a paper by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, the authors write how gratitude has a “find, remind, and bind” function in society.
By attuning people to the thoughtfulness of others, gratitude helps them find or identify people who are good candidates for quality future relationships.
It helps remind people of the goodness of their existing relationships, and it binds them to their partners and friends, by making them feel appreciated and encouraging them to engage in behaviours that will help prolong their relationships.
Because feelings of gratitude can go against deeply ingrained beliefs that undermine self-worth or inflate the ego, not everyone will feel gratitude as easily as emotions such and fear or happiness. This is why Emmons recommends keeping a gratitude journal.
Setting aside time to recall moments of gratitude associated with ordinary events, your personal attributes, or valued people in your life gives you the potential to interweave a sustainable life theme of gratefulness, he says.
If keeping a journal is too much work, try the advice of Professor Brene Brown, a self-development lecturer and author.
Before the family dinner every night, she says, go around the table and share one thing for which you are grateful.
If you still struggle? Fake it till you make it.
“If you go through grateful motions, the emotion of gratitude should be triggered,” says Emmons. Grateful motions include smiling, saying thank you, and writing letters of gratitude.