Gratitude, if we just consider the meaning of the word in the English language, is the feeling of thankfulness that we experience when we receive a kindness, benefit, or blessing of any kind. I have already written in an earlier post about the importance of gratitude. Today, I wish to talk about the benefits of gratitude. Not just the gratitude we feel, but gratitude as a conscious practice. What happens when we start to consciously appreciate the people and blessings in our lives, and the impact it has on us.
How does one practise gratitude? Dr. Robert Emmons, ones of the world’s leading researchers on gratitude, breaks it down into three steps:
- Recognising what we are grateful for
- Acknowledging the feeling of gratitude
- Expressing the appreciation that we feel
Positive psychology has long held that gratitude is a strong emotion and a powerful tool that can improve feelings of well-being in an individual. How does this happen? Here is my list of just some of the known benefits of gratitude.
The benefits of gratitude
A sense of well-being: Recognising what we are grateful for improves our overall sense of well-being. We feel stronger, more positive, and are able to cope much better with our problems. People who practise gratitude are less envious of others and become more optimistic about their future as well.
Happiness: When we search for the positive in things, our overall mindset also starts to change. One of the biggest benefits of gratitude is the change in perspective that it brings about, making us happier, more content with our lives, and better placed to enjoy our personal and social relationships.
Physical Health: In a study conducted in 2007, hypertension patients were asked to list down their blessings once a week. By the end of the study, all participants showed a marked decrease in their blood pressure. Gratitude strengthens our physiology and improves our energy levels; studies have shown that people following a practice of gratitude journaling make fewer visits to the doctor, are more likely to exercise, and report improved sleep quality as well as sleep duration. Research performed in 2015 on heart patients showed that those who maintained gratitude journals showed reduced inflammation, improved sleep and better moods and could dramatically reduce their symptoms within weeks.
Mental Health: The benefits of gratitude also extend to the sphere of mental health. A study conducted in 2004 showed that the emotions of appreciation and gratitude induce a relaxation response. Practising gratitude lowers anxiety and overall stress. In a study in 1998, a group of adults were taught to cultivate gratitude and other positive emotions. At the end of the intervention, the participants showed an average 23% reduction in their levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Studies have also shown that keeping a gratitude journal lowered depressive symptoms by over 30% as long as the practice was continued.
Personal growth: Apart from these significant benefits of gratitude, it can also be expected that as we become regular with the practice, our personality also improves as a result. Practising gratitude makes us less self-absorbed and materialistic and improves our self-esteem. It also induces pro-social behaviour – making us more likely to reach out to help others with their problems, and offer emotional support. Some people, once they start practising appreciation and gratitude, find themselves drawn towards spirituality or religion as well. While I am not a religious person and hence have not felt that, I can say that in the last few months since I started working on this practice, I have started thinking more about some kind of higher power.
The effect of working upon appreciation and gratitude in all aspects of life will naturally also allow us to positively impact our relationships, be it with friends, family, colleagues or with a romantic partner.
How to begin
- Try to observe everyday life and world in a more appreciative manner. It is amazing just how much we can take for granted about our lives.
- If you find yourself in a difficult or stressful situation, try to pause and consider what you might learn from it.
- Stop the comparisons. If you find yourself comparing yourself unfavourably to another person who is more successful or accomplished or whatever, stop and remind yourself that your journey is your own and is unique. Derive inspiration from the success of others, not envy or self-loathing. If you must compare, compare yourself to those who don’t have as much as you do. That will bring you back on the gratitude track.
- Start looking for positives in situations and people. More often than not, you will find what you look for.
- Every night, before you go to bed, make yourself count three good things about the day, things you can be grateful for. If you really want to take it up a notch, start a gratitude journal and write down these things in it every night. Make it a physical notebook or diary, not an app. You will end the day with a positive note and without the distraction of technology. If you are a parent, involve your children in the activity too. It’s a wonderful habit to inculcate in kids.
How do you practise gratitude in your life and how have you found it changing you? I’d love to hear from you.