5 healthy reasons to be grateful—and 5 ways to actually do it
Sometime this holiday season, you’re likely to find yourself around a table (or on a videoconference call) sharing with others about what you’re grateful for.
You might think this is a beautiful tradition. Or you might think it’s a hokey one—especially in an upside down year like 2020.
You probably don’t think of it as essential for your mental and physical health.
But, that’s exactly what it is.
In study after study—perhaps hundreds at this point—gratitude has been shown to have a tremendous positive influence on our health. What’s more, the benefits of gratitude are 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, every other one measured small and large health benefits from gratitude.
Today, let’s take a look at five of the most exciting benefits. And then, we’ll look at five ways we can introduce more gratitude into our lives—and thus, boost our health.
5 Most Exciting Health Benefits of Gratitude
What can gratitude do for your health? Here are 5 of the most exciting benefits of being more thankful.
1) You feel physically better
One 2012 study asked people to write a few words of either gratitude or irritation, for a week.
Researchers 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) Your self-care improves
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.
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 and appreciate what you’ve already achieved.
This can have a very powerful cascade effect—doing everything from reducing stress, to strengthening your social circle.
5 Healthy Ways to Be More Grateful
Let's be honest. Finding the silver lining in every dark cloud takes work. If you struggle to find tangible reasons to say thanks, here are 5 healthy everyday ways to show more 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.
2) 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.
3) 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.
4) 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.
5) Pray or meditate
Depending on your 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 express.
Be More Grateful...Gradually
You don’t need to do each of these five things to increase your gratitude.
But even if you just pick one or two and dedicate yourself to each, you'll make gains in crucial areas to your physical and emotional health.
Consider today a great day to chart a course to better health by being more grateful. (You'll thank us later.)
Take good care.
Disclaimer: Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
Last Updated: November 25, 2020
Originally Published: November 16, 2015