“Gratitude can turn your routine into a day of celebration,” said William Arthur Ward. Gratitude can be expressed to someone who has done you a favor, a teacher who has passed on his passion, a loved one who has supported you in a difficult moment or for all the little happy events that life offers you. For sure, you have already felt gratitude on many occasions, but do you know how to express it? With the advent of positive psychology or the science of happiness in 1998, researchers and psychologists around the world began to focus on happiness and impact of positive emotions on our health and well-being. In this article, I invite you to discover the 10 main benefits of gratitude proven by science.
Gratitude makes you happier.
For Sonja Lyubomirsky, a specialist in positive psychology, “expressing gratitude is the excellent strategy for achieving happiness”. This opinion was shared by Dr. Christopher Peterson, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. He used to ask his students to write letters of gratitude to people who are special in their lives. Over the years, he has made the same observation: not only did this practice make his students happier, but it also gave them a lasting sense of well-being.
Gratitude increases the degree of empathy.
As Rebecca Shankland, author of The Powers of Gratitude, points out, studies show that the happier we are, the more generous we tend to be. Now, as we have seen, the regular practice of gratitude helps to increase your level of happiness. Gratitude also makes you more empathetic and more connected to others. Indeed, it is a feeling that naturally reinforces your interest in others. It will awaken in you the desire to give, to support your peers and help you better perceive what they can feel.
Gratitude promotes positive emotions.
As you learn to express your gratitude, you stop focusing on what is wrong and instead you focus on all the positive things in your life. Practicing gratitude is very useful when you are upset by someone or a situation. Focusing on what you are grateful for allows you to find your inner calm more quickly and avoid staying too long in a negative state of mind. Therefore, gratitude makes you more positive and optimistic. And the rule of thumb is: the more you train yourself to express your gratitude, the sooner you’ll find reasons to be grateful!
Gratitude improves the quality of sleep.
Many of us suffer from fatigue, low morale or motivation or suffer from sleep disorders, and this can affect their physical and mental well-being, and thus their level of happiness. If you suffer any of these, you are part of the 63% of people who say they are not satisfied with their sleep? I have great news for you! Robert Emmons, an expert on the topic of gratitude, found in one of his studies that people who used to express their gratitude every night before falling asleep slept longer, fell asleep faster and felt more fit the next morning when they woke up. This is a natural way to improve the quality of your sleep: practice gratitude!
Gratitude strengthens relationships.
Shawn Achor, in his famous book “How to Become a Contagious Optimist”, explains that expressions of gratitude at work have been shown to strengthen professional and personal ties. He suggests sending an email of congratulations or thanks to a friend, relative or colleague each morning before starting his day’s work. This habit has a double positive impact. It acts on your happiness and helps to strengthen your relationships. Rebecca Shankland found similar results in a study of kindergarten and elementary school students. By expressing your gratitude, you strengthen the bond of trust with the other person and this motivates him/her to continue the relationship because this attitude brings him/her a sense of security and well-being.
Gratitude makes you less envious.
Practicing gratitude releases envy because it allows you to better appreciate what you already have, rather than focusing on what you are missing. Philip Watkins, a researcher at the University of Psychology in Washington, also found that people who consciously develop their feelings of gratitude were less frustrated because they are less centered on material possessions and less comparing themselves to others. These people simply realized that what gave them the most satisfaction and happiness in life was not objects, but their relationships! By making you less materialistic and less envious, gratitude also allows you to be more satisfied with your life.
Gratitude reduces stress and anxiety.
During his studies, Robert Emmons was able to observe a decrease in the rate of cortisol, which is a stress hormone, by 23% in people who regularly practiced gratitude. Stress can sometimes lead to depression, especially if you are subjected to intense and regular stress. This consequence of stress is well known to doctors. Ten years ago, neuropsychiatrists already estimated that about 1 in 5 people would experience at least one depressive episode in their lives under stress pressure. If you suffered from chronic stress or anxiety, gratitude can greatly help you.
Gratitude improves health.
Gratitude has been shown to reduce the risk of disease and also improve immune functions. People who practice gratitude recover faster as a result of illness and are overall healthier than others. But that’s not all. This one would be particularly beneficial for the heart. Indeed, Professor Paul Mills of the University of San Diego, California, has studied the impact of gratitude on patients with heart disease. After 2 months, the heart rate of people who had been asked to keep a gratitude journal had improved and their risk of cardiovascular disease had decreased. It would also affect blood pressure.
Gratitude reduces the risk of depression.
Several scientific studies suggest that people who express their gratitude would be less prone to depression and loneliness. Robert Emmons says: “Gratitude blocks toxic emotions like envy, resentment, regret and depression that can destroy our happiness.” For him, gratitude is also a key element in the prevention of suicide. This was confirmed by Massachusetts General Hospital physicians in Boston who tested positive psychology exercises, including gratitude, to some of their suicidal patients. 90% of the cases studied felt a positive influence on their level of depression.
Gratitude increases life expectancy.
In 2001, a study conducted by Deborah Danner, David Snowdon and Wallace Friesen of the University of Kentucky, found that positive emotions extended life expectancy by about 7 years. Their work focused on the letters of 180 Minnesota nuns. The older mother used to ask each newcomer to write an autobiographical letter about her personal history, the motivation of her commitment and her vision of life. They then renewed this exercise at 40 and 70 years. The researchers were able to analyze 150 years of records that showed that the nuns whose writings expressed the most optimism, wonder or gratitude had lived on average 7 years more than the others.
And do you regularly express your gratitude? What types of exercises do you prefer to practice or have you already tested? What has gratitude changed in your life? Share your experience in comments.