Patrick Randolph, Ph.D. Date updated: 12/10/2019
Gratitude improves physical health. Grateful people report feeling healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study. Not surprisingly, grateful people seem more likely to take care of their health. They exercise more often and are more likely to attend regular check-ups, which is likely to contribute to weight loss, the management of health problems and further longevity.
Gratitude decreases sensitivity to pain while improving pain tolerance. People who are more grateful in their lives feel pain in fewer places, with a much lower intensity.
Grateful people sleep better. According to a study in the UK, those who were rated higher for gratitude were more likely to fall asleep faster, had greater quality of sleep and duration.
Acknowledging what you’re grateful for—and writing it down—could be good for your heart, according to a 2015 study.
Researchers recruited 186 heart failure patients and found that gratitude was associated with less inflammation, improved sleep and healthier heart rhythms, factors that can improve health and slow down the progression of heart disease.
Experiencing gratitude from helping others and appreciating the positive things in your life can make you a happier person, research shows. Depression often tunes into the negative by focusing on regret and loss in the past, while anxiousness and worry tend to dwell the future. Gratefulness, however, is a state of mind always expressed in a present moment. We’re almost always able to find something to be grateful about now, which distracts from the pain of past and future. Cultivating gratefulness not only improves our well-being, but seems to protect us from the harmful physical effects of stress.
What do you have to be grateful for now?
How do you show gratitude in your life?
How to get started:
Psychologist Nicola Davies suggests starting small and working your way up, focusing on being regular and consistent with your gratitude. Here are a few ways she encourages us to include gratitude in our lives.
1. Maintain a gratitude journal
Make a detailed list of the things over the past week for which you are thankful. Research shows that people who kept a gratitude journal for as little as three months could express gratitude readily and found more things for which to be thankful. Your gratitude may be for simple things, such as a nice cup of coffee, or they can be larger, such as being thankful for a loved one.
Lauren Zalewski, founder of gratitudeaddict.com, shares her experience: “Over the past 17 years that I’ve been sick, I’ve tried every medication, every supplement, every treatment, every doctor; and most of them have left me with very disappointing results. When I started incorporating a gratitude practice of writing down things that don’t hurt or don’t give me trouble, I was able to see things from a completely different perspective. It took practice, but now that perspective is a knee-jerk reaction.”
2. Start a gratitude jar
Keep a jar filled with notes or photos of moments and people you are grateful for. Pick one out occasionally to get an instant boost of gratitude.
3. Write a letter of gratitude
Choose a person who has been helpful or kind to you, and write a letter thanking them. Describe what they did that made you feel grateful and how it impacted your life. Don’t worry about making the letter completely perfect; the idea is to express yourself freely. You can choose to keep the letter or deliver it to the person in any way you like.
4. Three good things
Each night, before going to sleep, write down three things that occurred during the day for which you are grateful, taking time to reflect on each one. Focus on how these events made you feel and why you appreciate them so much.
5. Remember the bad
This may seem counterproductive, but studies show that remembering some of the difficult times from our past helps us appreciate how far we have come. Take some time to reflect on how you tackled your problems, and be thankful for your personal growth.
6. Share gratitude
Share the experience of gratitude with your friends and family by taking the time to express what you are grateful for at the dinner table or during a get-together. Encourage your loved ones to do the same.