The world is going through an extremely tough time right now. People have lost their jobs, kids cannot go to school, and life as we know it has changed.
This article will look at how practicing gratitude in our daily lives can lead to profound changes in our emotional, physical, and psychological well-being.
What is Gratitude?
Linguistically, gratitude is found across many languages and cultures. It originates from the Latin word ‘gratia’, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. However, we don’t all experience or perceive it in the same way. Essentially, it is an emotion that helps us express appreciation and thankfulness. It is one of the most underestimated of all our emotions. Yet many contend is the cornerstone of living a happy and fulfilled life. Most commonly associated with saying thank you for receiving a gift, an act of gratitude is unconditional and selfless – you don’t do it to get a favor in return.
How does Gratitude work?
There are two main factors involved: catharsis and reciprocity. The former means a release of intense emotions that leave you feeling better. For instance, you may cry after an argument with a close friend, but this act of release lessens the tension you feel. In a similar way, gratitude helps us release toxic emotions like envy, frustration, and dissatisfaction that act as blocks to us growing. Letting go of these negative feelings will leave you feeling lighter, happier, and more energetic.
Reciprocity, on the other hand, is concerned with an exchange. Through gratitude, we exchange positive feelings. When we say thank you, or smile at someone, that positive emotion is transferred and potentially paid forward. The positivity is paid forward. The benefit is shared and transferred to others, who themselves will share it, and so on. This is valuable, but for those seeking a more direct benefit, perhaps the virtue will come full circle, and you will be faced with more grateful, positive people yourself.
Life doesn’t always go the way we want; the job promotion goes to someone else, we miss a flight due to bad traffic, elderly parents need more care. It’s easy to allow ourselves to wallow in self-pity and let negative feelings like anger and frustration take over us. Feeling ‘poor me’ rarely helps improve the situation, but instead only leads to more negativity. However, research shows that if we swap our negative feelings for gratefulness for the things we do have, profound changes can take place in our lives.
Below are six benefits you can expect after practicing gratitude regularly:
1. Physical Health
Studies have shown that grateful people have more immune protecting blood cells, which means they suffer fewer coughs and colds. They are more likely to run for a bus or a train without getting out of breath as they are healthier and more likely to exercise. Being grateful can also reduce aches and pains in the body and lower blood pressure. If that’s not enough, gratitude can help you sleep deeper and longer. No need for a cup of coffee in the morning anymore as you wake up refreshed and ready to start the day feeling good.
2. Mental Health
Positivity creates more positivity. When we consciously identify what is good in our lives, we start to connect with positive emotions at a more meaningful level. This helps us feel more present in our lives, more alert to make choices, less depressed and more energetic. Research conducted at the University of California found that individuals who were asked to keep a journal of positive experiences reported feeling more happy and optimistic about life than individuals who were asked to focus on recording only negative things.
One of the worst feelings is the inability to genuinely celebrate someone else’s success without feeling a pinch of envy. Self -esteem grows when we recognize the value of what we have already in our life. It is easier for us to break free from the negative cycle of envy and resentment. When your best friend wins the lottery, rather than feeling bitterness, practicing gratitude will help you appreciate their good luck and share in the joy. Likewise, other toxic emotions like frustration and regret are lessened. Studies have shown that grateful people are less likely to say they are materialistic or experience envy.
Connecting with a higher level of positivity through gratefulness can make us more emotionally resilient when we are faced with trauma or adversity. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a study in 2013 that discovered that individuals displayed great resilience after the 9/11 Terrorist attack if they had a grateful temperament. By focusing on abundance, we fortify ourselves against falling into negative emotional patterns when we go through difficult times.
Grateful people experience closer friendships. One reason for this might be that grateful people are more likely to help others and this help is then reciprocated. Having friends is also good for your health. Studies have shown that individuals who have social support network tend to have a stronger immune system.
Grateful people are more likely to forgive others and are less obsessed with themselves. Toxic emotions like envy and regret stop us connecting with people. Expressing our appreciation helps us become more generous and compassionate, less judgmental and critical. Creating stronger bonds with people also reduces feelings of loneliness and open us up to new opportunities.
In 2005 the American Psychologist Journal reported that performing only a single act of gratitude could increase happiness by 10% and reduce depression by 35%. The effects lasted only 6 months. Whilst, participants who kept a daily journal for a week discovered the benefits lasted even longer.
No experience in life is purely good or purely bad. However, how we interpret the things that happen to us, determines how we feel about our life. Grateful people tend to perceive the world as more positive. For instance, if you are in a car crash, you can either think ‘wow I’m lucky that I wasn’t hurt and I’m grateful to be alive’, or you can think ‘I’m really angry I crashed’. Studies show that people who are more grateful have a better recollection of happy memories.
Saying thank you will not solve all your problems. There is a time and place for negative emotions. Sometimes anger plays an important role in healing. Don’t brush everything under a carpet of thankfulness. Use gratitude to process your emotions but not the control them.