There is a variety of things that can conjure positive feelings of appreciation or gratitude that may guide people towards meaning and better health.
The benefits of practicing gratitude are nearly endless. People who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they’re thankful for experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems. And gratitude doesn’t need to be reserved only for momentous occasions: Sure, you might express gratitude after receiving a promotion at work, but you can also be thankful for something as simple as a delicious piece of the pie. Research by UC Davis psychologist Robert Emmons, author of Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, shows that simply keeping a gratitude journal—regularly writing brief reflections on moments for which we’re thankful—can significantly increase well‑being and life satisfaction.
In fact, gratitude may be one of the most overlooked tools that we all have access to every day. Cultivating gratitude doesn’t cost any money and it certainly doesn’t take much time, but the benefits are enormous.
We all know what it’s like to finally get something we want, only to find ourselves feeling as if we don’t deserve it. Whether it’s a car, a new job, or a date with someone wonderful, we suddenly feel as if we are not up to it. Something in us wants to reject this gift from the universe, perhaps because it requires that we think of ourselves in a new way or makes us question why we should have something that others don’t have. If these feelings of unworthiness are not consciously acknowledged, they can lead us to sabotage ourselves out of the gift being offered. Perhaps the best way to avoid rejection and sabotage is to simply shift into a state of gratitude, bypassing the question of worthiness altogether.
What good is gratitude?
why might gratitude have these transformative effects on people’s lives?
Research reveals gratitude can have these several benefits, but I want to highlight five in particular:
1.Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present. It magnifies positive emotions.
Research on emotion shows that positive emotions wear off quickly. Our emotional systems like newness. They like a novelty. They like to change. We adapt to positive life circumstances so that before too long, the new car, the new spouse, the new house—they don’t feel so new and exciting anymore.
But gratitude makes us appreciate the value of something, and when we appreciate the value of something, we extract more benefits from it; we’re less likely to take it for granted.
In effect, I think gratitude allows us to participate more in life. We notice the positives more, and that magnifies the pleasures you get from life. Instead of adapting to goodness, we celebrate goodness. We spend so much time watching things—movies, computer screens, sports—but with gratitude, we become greater participants in our lives as opposed to spectators.
2.Better Physical and Mental Health
Research performed in 2015 showed that patients with heart failure who completed gratitude journals showed reduced inflammation, improved sleep, and better moods; this reduced their symptoms of heart failure after only 8 weeks.
The link between the mind-body connection aligns with how gratitude can have a double benefit. For example, the feeling of appreciation helps us to have healthier minds, and with that healthier bodies.
3.Gratitude opens the door to more relationships. Not only does saying “thank you” constitute good manners, but showing appreciation can help you win new friends, according to a 2014 study published in Emotion. The study found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship. So whether you thank a stranger for holding the door or you send a quick thank-you note to that co-worker who helped you with a project, acknowledging other people’s contributions can lead to new opportunities.
4.Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. Grateful people are more likely to behave in a prosocial manner, even when others behave less kind, according to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky. Study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.
5.An Overall a Better Life
Over the last two decades, the evidence supporting the benefits of gratitude has increased a lot.
Consider this quote from the Wall Street Journal’s article “Thank you, No, Thank you.”
“…adults who feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not, according to studies conducted over the past decade. They’re also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy or alcoholics.” – Melinda Beck
Aside from increasing well-being, psychology research shows how practicing gratitude, in this case, gratitude towards a higher power, can reduce levels of stress (Krause, 2006). Practicing gratitude can decrease levels of depression and anxiety (Kashdan & Breen, 2007).
When we receive a gift and find those feelings of unworthiness crop up, we can simply acknowledge the feelings and then remind ourselves that they are beside the point. We might say to ourselves, “I am meant to have this.” As we allow ourselves to accept the gift, we might feel tenderness in our hearts that naturally shifts into a deep feeling of gratitude. As we sit for a moment, consciously holding the gift in our hands or in our hearts, we say “yes” to the universe’s many blessings, and we also say “thank you.”