The holiday season always emphasizes being grateful for our family, friends and all of our blessings. Sure, it’s a nice sentiment, but did you know that cultivating an attitude of gratitude can actually improve your health?
It turns out that many scientific studies have shown that people who practice gratitude in their life can reduce pain, reduce stress, improve sleep and more. Here are just a few ways that practicing gratitude can help:
- Reduces Pain
According to a 2012 study, people who feel more grateful report feeling healthier and experience fewer aches and pains than other people. And a 2003 paper showed that college students who wrote down their gratitudes for 10 weeks reported fewer physical symptoms (headaches, muscle soreness, shortness of breath, etc.) than those who didn’t write down what they were grateful for.
- Improves Heart Health
Another study from the University of California San Diego’s School of Medicine showed that people who were more grateful had better heart health with lower inflammation. In the study, 186 people who had had some previous heart problems were asked to fill out a questionnaire, and those who reported being more grateful also turned out to be healthier. In a follow-up study, 20 patients with heart disease were asked to write down two or things there were grateful for every day for two months, while 20 patients didn’t write anything down. Those who kept the gratitude journals experienced lower levels of inflammation.
- Helps You Sleep
Studies have also shown that being grateful can also improve your sleep. It makes sense; when you’re more grateful, you focus on the good happening in your life instead of worrying about the bad, and that means you’re able to fall asleep more quickly. In a study from the University of Manchester, people who were more grateful were able to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer than others.
- Reduces Stress
Focusing on gratitude can be a blessing for your mental health as well. Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California Davis and a leading expert in the science of gratitude, has outlined many of the mental health benefits of gratitude in his book, “Gratitude Works!” For example, he says that health care practitioners who kept a gratitude diary for two weeks experienced a 28 percent reduction in stress levels and a 16 percent reduction in depression. And he says gratitude can lower the level of your stress hormones by 23 percent.
How to Practice Gratitude
So how can you cultivate an attitude of gratitude? Here are some easy ways to put it into practice.
- Start a gratitude journal – Write down a few things you are grateful every day.
- Use the alphabet – Before you go to sleep at night, try going through the alphabet in your head and thinking of things that you are grateful for from A to Z.
- Write gratitude letters – Taking the time to thank those in your life is a great way of seeing more of the good in your life. You can either write letters or emails to people who have made a difference to you, or you could visit them in person for an even more meaningful connection.
- Reflect on things that went well – Sometimes it can be easy to think that everything in our lives is going wrong. But if you want to get a bigger perspective, write about a time when a negative event turned out to be a positive in the end.
- Volunteer – Another surefire way to feel more gratitude for your life is to help those less fortune than you. You can volunteer to work at a homeless shelter, visit the elderly in the hospital, organize a toy drive for underprivileged kids, and more. Even listening to a friend in need can get you out of yourself and brighten your day.
Let us know how you practice an attitude of gratitude in the comments below!