I think we are all on board that gratitude is a good thing. So much so that “thank you” is probably one of the first phrases we teach our children to master. But did you know the benefits of gratitude run so much deeper than good manners? Being grateful on a regular basis can change your physiology in powerful ways. Science tells us that finding even simple ways to show gratitude every day, like journaling, writing a note, or even just saying thank you, may just be one of the easiest things you can do to improve your health.
1. Better Sleep
Sleep problems are some of the most common complaints with most people suffering from insomnia or poor quality sleep. Research shows being grateful leads to the sleep trifecta: falling asleep faster, staying asleep longer, and feeling more rested when you wake up. Getting more high quality sleep, leads to better memory, a more robust immune system, and improved well-being overall so practicing gratitude can be a gateway to a completely healthier and happier you.
2. Reduced Pain
Chronic pain can be debilitating and difficult to manage, but research suggests a consistent gratitude practice, like journaling, can decrease the level of pain experienced by those with conditions like fibromyalgia, chronic back pain, and arthritis. Gratitude is also beneficial for alleviating emotional pain or grief and cultivating empathy.
3. Improved Mood
Anxiety and depression are common and can affect all aspects of life from work to relationships and contribute to feelings of decreased quality of life. Many studies show practicing gratitude can be protective against anxiety and depression by altering our neurotransmitter production. These benefits are also shown in cases of post-partum depression in new moms. Even in those not experiencing anxiety or depression, gratitude can improve overall mood.
4. Boosted Immune Function
Your immune system is absolutely crucial in keeping colds and flu at bay but also regulating our overall health. Gratitude practices improve how quickly and effectively our white cells function which means they are more efficient at identifying and eliminating potential threats. Being grateful also increases the production of cytokines which are molecules the immune system uses to communicate with itself, further boosting your immune capability.
5. Less Stress
Prolonged stress has many negative effects on our body. Our cardiovascular system takes a hit when blood pressure skyrockets and the stress hormone cortisol can drive dysfunction when elevated for too long. Being grateful can reduce the psychological feelings of stress and research shows gratitude reduces the physiologic effects of stress as well. Several studies have shown that even short gratitude practices lower blood pressure and cortisol. Heart rate variability is increased in those who cultivate gratitude indicating improved heart health overall.
Get on the insider track and have scientifically proven health hacks delivered straight to your inbox!
Wood, Alex M, Joseph, Stephen, Lloyd, Joanna, Atkins, Samuel. Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. Vol 66(1), Jan 2009, 43-48.
Jackowska, Marta, Brown, Jennie, Ronaldson, Amy, Steptoe, Andrew. The impact of a brief gratitude intervention on subjective well-being, biology, and sleep. Journal of Health Psychology. Vol 21(10). Oct 2016, 2207-17.
Emmons, Robert A, McCullough, Michael E. Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol84(2), Feb 2003, 377-389.
Fox, Glenn, Kaplan, Jonas, Damasio, Hanna, Damasio, Antonio. Neural correlates of gratitude. Frontiers in Psychology. Vol 6, Sept 2015, 1491.
Rosmarin, David, Krumrei, Elizabeth, Pargament, Kenneth. Are gratitude and spirituality protective factors against psychopathlogy? International Journal of Existential Psychology & Psychotherapy. Vol 3(1), Aug 2010.
Dhabhar, Firdaus. Effects of stress on immune function: the good, the bad, and the beautiful. Immunologic Research. Vol 58(2-3), May 2014, 193-210