28 August 2019
3 Surprising Benefits of Gratitude - And How to Practise It
Various studies have shown practicing gratitude to have positive effects on physical and mental health, but how else can gratitude impact on your life? As it turns out, quite a lot.
If we were to play a game of ‘wellness buzzword bingo’, then ‘gratitude’ would almost certainly be up there with the big hitters. Although saying thank you is one of the most basic fundamentals of human interaction – even if some people do seem to forget it once in a while – in the last few years the way in which remind ourselves to be grateful has gone next level.
Essentially the practice of acknowledging the good things in life, including the tiny ones over which you have no control, various studies have shown gratitude to have positive effects on physical and mental health. These include providing a “buffer against stress and loneliness” (1), increasing self-esteem (2) and reducing aches and pains. But how else can gratitude impact on your life? As it turns out, quite a lot.
Journalling could make you more altruistic
Always think you’d like to be a ‘better person’ but not quite sure where to start? It turns out that keeping a gratitude journal might be the key. Research has shown that those who consciously practise gratitude by journalling were more likely to exhibit altruistic tendencies than those who journal about more generalised topics. Backing this up, MRI studies also showed that the value attached to altruism in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex – an important part of the brain’s reward system – in these people increased with continued journaling (3).
Positive thinking might make you might sleep better
If your brain seems to suddenly kick into gear just as you're attempting to get some zzzs, then it may be worth getting everything off your chest before bed – even the good things. In a study by British researchers into the link between sleep and gratitude, it was discovered that those who reported feelings gratitude were also more likely to report enjoying higher sleep quality and longer sleep duration than those who did not. It's thought that the feelings of positivity that gratitude induces resulted in less negative pre-bed thoughts, which in turn improved how well participants slept. (4)
Write letters: You’ll be more motivated to eat healthily
If you find sticking to eating healthily a challenge, then gratitude could be your secret weapon. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that participants who wrote a ‘gratitude letter’ to someone that had helped them in the past, when combined with making conscious effort to spend 30 minutes a week working on something important to them, tended to self-report making healthier food choices than those who did not.
How do I practise gratitude?
The way in which we implement our gratitude – whether it’s though daily quiet time or using colourful journals offering life-affirming messages – is entirely personal, but the one thing that is universal is the reality that just being told to ‘be grateful’ is about as helpful as being told to ‘just be happy’. Great in theory, harder in practise. But there are a few small steps we can take to add a touch of gratitude to our everyday lives…
Start a gratitude journal: Leave a notebook next to your bed and before you go to sleep each night write down three things you are thankful for that day.
Take on a gratitude challenge: Grab yourself a diary and set yourself a challenge by planning out one little thing you will do to practise gratitude each that day that month. It could be as small as sending a text to someone you love or as big as committing to replacing every complaint that day with a positive thing.
Make a phone call: It doesn’t necessarily need to be to say thank you to someone; simply having a conversation with someone you're glad is in your life will leave you feeling grateful to the world.
Buy someone a coffee or a bunch of flowers: Whether it’s a colleague that’s made your life easier this week or a friend who was there for you in a tough time, it’ll be money well spent. Plus, it can double up as your good deed for the day!
- Brenda H. O’Connell & Mary Killeen-Byrt. (2018). Psychosocial health mediates the gratitude-physical health link, Psychology, Health & Medicine, 23:9, 1145-1150, DOI: 10.1080/13548506.2018.1469782
- Lung Hung Chen & Chia-Huei Wu. (2014). Gratitude Enhances Change in Athletes’ Self-Esteem: The Moderating Role of Trust in Coach, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 26:3, 349-362, DOI: 10.1080/10413200.2014.889255
- Karns CM, et al. (2017). The Cultivation of Pure Altruism via Gratitude: A Functional MRI Study of Change with Gratitude Practice. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 11:599. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2017.00599
- Alex M. Wood et al. (2009). Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, Volume 66, Issue 1, Pages 43-48
- Megan M. Fritz, et al. (2019). Gratitude facilitates healthy eating behavior in adolescents and young adults. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 81, Pages 4-14