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Feel Gratitude to Feel Well

woman thanking her friend
November 16, 2015 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

Sometime soon this holiday season, you’re likely to find yourself sitting or standing around a table, being asked to tell everyone what you’re grateful for.

You might think this is a beautiful tradition. Or you might think it’s a hokey one. But you probably don’t think of it as one essential for your mental and physical health.

Yet that’s exactly what it is.

In study after study—perhaps over a hundred at this point—gratitude has been shown to have an exceptionally positive influence on all aspects of our health. What’s more, the benefits of gratitude are extremely long-lasting—with one act of gratitude sometimes echoing out for a month or more.

Now it’s true, not all gratitude is equal. A child forced to write a thank-you doesn’t get any benefit, indicating that true gratitude requires a minimal amount of emotional maturity.

Likewise, middle-aged recently divorced women who kept gratitude journals saw no benefit, indicating that it’s possible for recent personal tragedies to drown out the positives of gratitude.

But, out of the countless studies done, every other one measured large and small health benefits that emerged from gratitude.

Today, let’s take a look at five of the most exciting of those benefits. And then, we’ll look at five ways we can introduce more gratitude into our lives—and thus, more health.

Five reasons to be thankful for gratitude

  1. You feel better. Right now, I just mean physically. One 2012 study asked people to write a few words of either gratitude or irritation, for a week. It found that people who expressed gratitude experienced fewer aches and pains. They also required fewer trips to the doctor. Gratitude made them measurably healthier.
  2. You take better care of yourself. The same study was somewhat surprised to learn that an offshoot of gratitude was an increase in positive behavior, like exercising more frequently.
  3. You feel happier. One University of Pennsylvania psychologist had study participants write a letter of thanks to someone from their lives that had gone unrecognized until then. Upon completion of the task, happiness scores exploded upwards, and stayed up for a month. Both the size of the happiness increase and the duration it lasted easily beat every other attempt at increasing happiness.
  4. You increase your mental strength. Gratitude makes it possible for you to deal better with the difficulties of life. Indeed. one 2006 study found that Vietnam veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower levels of PTSD.
  5. You increase your self-esteem. By focusing on what you have, instead of what you lack, gratitude helps you step back from the rat race and appreciate what you’ve already achieved. This can have a very powerful cascade effect—doing everything from reducing stress, to strengthening the social web in which you reside.

 

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Five ways to increase gratitude

  1. Write a thank you note

Everyone likes to receive thank-you notes. But being the sender of one is actually even more beneficial. You can thank them again for that later.

  1. Thank someone mentally

Don’t have time to write and mail a note today? Try recognizing and thanking someone silently, in your own head, instead. They may never realize what you thought, but the benefits to you are nearly as great.

  1. Keep a gratitude journal

Every day, take a few moments to jot down things that you’re grateful for. Or, if you don’t like writing, make a little time each evening to go over the day with a loved one, and reflect upon moments that inspire gratitude.

  1. Count your blessings

Each week, do a slightly more in-depth gratitude journal, reflecting on what occurred the past seven days. Pick three to five things for which you’re grateful, and spend a moment remembering and reliving the emotions of gratitude you felt at the time.

  1. Pray or meditate

Depending on your religious beliefs, prayer or meditation can be the perfect time to quietly reflect on the great fortune you’ve experience in your week, or your life. Some people make gratitude a focus of their daily prayers.

Don’t just go through the motions. “Thank you” are not magical words. Gratitude, instead, is a magical emotion. So make sure you aren’t just reciting, but instead you are feeling, the gratitude you feel.

You don’t need to do each of these five things to increase your gratitude. But even if you just pick one and dedicate yourself to it, well, you’ll thank me later.

And you’ll thank me for that opportunity to say thank you, too.

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