I’ve been researching the effects of gratitude on physical and psychological health and well-being, and on our relationships with others.
Gratitude affirmations, journals and other practices often seem so simple and basic that you would assume more people would use them. But, even now, it seems like a well-kept secret.
According to my research and personal experience, people who practice gratitude consistently report a whole list of physical, psychological and social benefits including:
• Stronger immune systems
• Less minor aches and pains
• Lower blood pressure
• Exercising more and taking better care of their health
• Sleeping longer and feeling more refreshed upon waking
• Having higher levels of positive emotions
• Feeling more alert, alive and awake
• Experiencing more joy and pleasure
• Experiencing more optimism and happiness
• Being more helpful, generous and compassionate
• Being more forgiving
• Being more outgoing
• Feeling less lonely and isolated
The social benefits are especially significant here because I believe that gratitude is a social emotion. I also believe the emotion of gratitude strengthens relationships because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported, affirmed and promoted by other people.
Gratitude has two elements that make up the actual act of being grateful.
First, it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world that we’ve received. This doesn’t mean that life is perfect. Gratitude doesn’t ignore complaints, burdens, and hassles. But when we look at life as a whole, gratitude encourages us to identify at least some amount of goodness in our life.
The second part of gratitude is figuring out where that goodness comes from.
We recognize the sources of goodness as being outside of ourselves. It didn’t stem from anything we necessarily did that we might pride ourselves on.
We can appreciate positive traits in ourselves, but I think true gratitude involves at least some dependence on others. We acknowledge that other people, a higher power, or the universe gave us support or physical items to help us achieve the goodness we see in our lives.
So, you may be asking, “what good is gratitude?”, or, why might gratitude have transformative effects on people’s lives?
I think there are several important reasons, but I’d like to talk about these few, in particular.
Gratitude encourages us to celebrate the present. Positive emotions are magnified by gratitude. Research on emotions shows that positive emotions wear off quickly. Our emotional systems like newness, novelty and change. We adapt quickly to positive life circumstances so that, before long, the new car, spouse or house don’t feel so new and exciting anymore. Gratitude makes us appreciate the value of things, and when we appreciate the value of something, we get more benefit from it and we’re less likely to take it for granted.
Gratitude allows us to participate more fully in life. We notice more positive actions and emotions and that magnifies the pleasure you get from life. Instead of adapting to goodness, we celebrate it and become active participants in our lives as opposed to idle spectators.
Gratitude blocks negative emotions. Envy, resentment and regret are emotions that can destroy our happiness. There’s evidence showing that gratitude can reduce the frequency and duration of episodes of depression.
To me, this only makes sense. You can’t feel envious and grateful at the same time. They’re opposite feelings. If you’re grateful, you can’t resent someone for having something that you don’t. Research shows that people who have high levels of gratitude, have low levels of resentment and envy.
Grateful people are more resistant to negative emotions. There are a number of studies showing that in the face of serious trauma, adversity and suffering, if people have a grateful disposition, they’ll recover more quickly. I believe gratitude gives people a perspective that allows them to interpret negative life events differently and guard against stress and anxiety.
Grateful people have an elevated sense of self-worth. When you’re grateful, you have the sense that someone else is looking out for you. You notice more relationships, physically and spiritually, that are responsible for helping you get to where you are right now.
Once you start to recognize the contributions made to your life by outside forces, you can transform the way you see yourself.
Now, just because gratitude is good doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Practicing gratitude can be at odds with some deeply ingrained psychological tendencies.
What I mean is that, when good things happen to us, we say it’s because of something we did, but when bad things happen, we tend to blame other people or circumstances.
Gratitude allows us to give credit to others for our success. We know some of the credit is ours, but we are more capable of saying things like, “My parents gave me this opportunity.” or, “I had teachers, mentors, coaches and peers who assisted me along the way.” It can also be seen as going against our need to feel in control of our environment. It allows us to accept life as it is and be grateful for what we have.
Finally, gratitude contradicts the idea that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. We start to realize that we get more than we deserve. This goes against the messages we get in today’s society. Modern opinion says that we deserve good fortune, that we’re entitled to it. But, if you’re entitled to everything, it makes it a lot harder to be grateful for anything.
To wrap this up, I believe that gratitude is an easy way to see the best in life. We can be grateful for what we get, but also for what we’re able to give. Mother Theresa talked about how grateful she was to the people she was helping, the sick and dying in the slums of Calcutta, because they enabled her to grow and deepen her spirituality,
It is gratitude that allows us to break free from the stresses of life and see the good that comes from our daily efforts and struggles. We are here to give and receive, and being grateful for all of it makes life worth living.
If you would like to know more about gratitude, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You could also schedule a free coaching session, participate in the 30-Day Positivity Challenge or receive a Personal Happiness Checklist, free of charge, just by visiting our website at jedwardscoaching.com.
Any comments, questions or feedback are greatly appreciated. Please leave them below in the comments section.
Thank you and have a great day!