A lot has been said about gratitude — taking the time to savor the things in your life you are appreciative of, rather than focusing on what’s difficult or negative. More importantly, scientific research has confirmed the concrete physical and mental benefits of acknowledging and exercising gratitude.
There is a multitude of ways to practice gratitude in your own life, from taking time each day to write down the things you’re thankful for or going out of your way to tell a loved one how much they mean to you. Here are five ways that practicing gratitude can help improve your overall wellness, and keep you grounded in the good stuff.
Gratitude improves mental health
It doesn’t come as a surprise that focusing on the things that you’re grateful for in contrast with worrying about the things that are getting you down is good for your overall mental wellbeing. However, there have been many studies showing solid evidence that making the effort to take stock of what you’re thankful for can have tangible benefits on your mental health.
One study split up 300 university students receiving mental health treatment into three groups. One group was asked to write down their positive thoughts (gratitude journaling). Another group was asked to keep track of their negative thoughts, and the third group didn’t do any sort of journaling. The findings? The group that was asked to write down what they were thankful for reported significantly improved mental health compared to the other groups for the in the study, and in the three months that followed.
During a time of unusual stress, why not take some time to really account for the things that are making you happy? It could really make a significant impact.
Gratitude can help improve sleep
Having trouble getting the rest that you need? Consider taking time before bed to account for the things in your life that you’re the most grateful for. In a landmark 2003 study, psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough asked a group of people with neuromuscular disorders to create nightly lists of things for which they were grateful. Three weeks later, the participants in the study reported that they were getting longer and more restful sleep.
Later studies suggested that cultivating gratitude throughout the day helped increase positive thoughts before bed. So, instead of focusing on the stress of your job, you’re able to drift off to sleep thinking about how thankful you are to be financially comfortable.
Practicing gratitude can encourage you to exercise more
While keeping a list of things you’re grateful for may not magically transport you to the gym, the same 2003 study that suggested that practicing gratitude can help you sleep better also showed that people who kept track of their gratitude exercised more than the control group.
While it may not be a magic bullet for holding yourself accountable for becoming active, the concept of the study does make sense: thinking about all of the things your body can do is far more encouraging than thinking about your limitations. Instead of lamenting over the fact that you’re not a marathon runner, celebrate the fact that you can run even one mile, and then go out and give it a shot!
Gratitude can have a big impact on relationships
Again, it probably isn’t so surprising that choosing to think of the things you love about your partner rather than the fact that they chew their ice after being done with their drink or always manage to leave something stuck on the dishes.
A study that looked at the psychology of gratitude in relationships found that those who were actively appreciative of their partners and took the time to verbalize their appreciation had longer relationships than those who didn’t. Relatedly, in another study that looked into patterns of gratitude between friends, researchers also saw a large increase in reported quality of the friendship amongst subjects who verbalized feelings of gratitude to their friends.
What does it mean? More than just thinking nice things about the people in your life, you need to actively share positive feelings for those good vibes to have a tangible impact - not only on yourself - but on others.
Gratitude improves mental fortitude
Gratitude doesn’t just reduce stress, enhance relationships, and make you happier overall. Practicing gratitude can also make you mentally resilient, and in part, overcome trauma. Robert Emmons, a leading scholar on the impact of gratitude, wrote about the ways that being grateful can actually help you overcome some of the greatest difficulties in life.
It might seem counterintuitive, but Emmons suggests that one of the best ways to feel better during a crisis is to consider the other bad things you’ve experienced and how you managed to overcome them — perhaps even grow from them. “Think of the worst times in your life, your sorrows, your losses, your sadness—and then remember that here you are, able to remember them, that you made it through the worst times of your life, you got through the trauma, you got through the trial, you endured the temptation, you survived the bad relationship, you’re making your way out of the dark.”
While thinking about negative things might not seem like gratitude, it will allow you to contextualize your experiences, and push through whatever it is you might be going through in the present moment.
So why not give practicing gratitude a shot? Get a journal, or share something about a close friend that you appreciate. It could be a small part in making a healthier, happier, you.