Tap Into the Surprising Benefits of Gratitude

by Shana Montesol Johnson

Thanksgiving – that most American of holidays – is upon us. And although I have lived outside of my home country of the US for roughly 40% of my life, I still get a hankering for turkey with all the trimmings sometime around the fourth Thursday of November. (Shout out to my Canadian friends who already celebrated their Thanksgiving in October!)

Of course, Thanksgiving is about more than turkey and pumpkin pie. It’s about gratitude. Recently I’ve become intrigued by some fascinating research findings on the benefits of gratitude. It turns out that practicing gratitude has been shown to have all sorts of health benefits. I was surprised to learn that:

  • Gratitude can cause you to exercise more. One group of participants in a study was asked to write down things they were grateful for once a week. Another group was asked to write down hassles or annoyances they had encountered. Those in the “gratitude” group spent, on average, 1.5 hours more exercising per week than those in the “hassles group.”
  • Gratitude can help you get better sleep. Study participants oriented toward gratitude fell asleep more easily, slept longer, and felt more refreshed upon waking.
  • Gratitude can lower your blood pressure. Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis and “the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude” says that people who keep gratitude journals “show a 10 percent drop in blood pressure compared to persons who are not keeping these journals.”

Researchers affirm that gratitude can also boost our mental health and well-being. They found that people who kept notes on what they’re thankful for have reported higher levels of positive emotions, more joy and pleasure, more happiness and optimism. They felt more alert, alive, and awake than others who did not practice gratitude. Notably, people who are focused on things they are thankful for are less depressed and less angry. In fact, researchers have found that gratitude can increase your “set point of happiness” by 25 percent.

Practicing gratitude can also enhance our relationships with other people. For example:

  • Gratitude makes you more empathetic and less aggressive.
  • Gratitude can provide a “booster shot” for romantic relationships.
  • Gratitude can ward off envy. Robert Emmons points out, “You cannot feel envious and grateful at the same time. They’re incompatible feelings. If you’re grateful, you can’t resent someone for having something that you don’t.” His research has suggested that people who have high levels of gratitude have low levels of resentment and envy.

Gratitude can even help you attain your goals. Participants in a study who were asked to keep gratitude lists were more likely than those in control groups “to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal, and health-based) over a two-month period.”

A Simple Way to Tap Into Gratitude’s Benefits

How do you tap into some of these great benefits? It’s simple. At the end of the week, take a moment to think back on the week that has passed, and write down what you’re grateful or thankful for. Write one phrase or sentence per each gratitude, up to five. That’s it! Participants in studies who have done this have reported significant benefits after just ten weeks.

Join the 10-Week Gratitude Challenge

Are you willing to accept a little challenge? Let’s join together in keeping gratitude lists once a week for 10 weeks, and let’s see if we experience any of the benefits I’ve listed above. If we make our first gratitude lists on Friday, November 23 – the day after Thanksgiving – and then continue for 9 more weeks, we will complete the 10th entry on Friday, January 25. Let’s plan to touch base at that point and see if we are healthier and happier.

Let me know in the comments below, or on my Facebook page, if you plan to join the challenge. And feel free to list something you’re thankful for this week!

Photo by woodleywonderworks

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