Practicing Gratitude – How Being Thankful Can Actually Improve Your Health
By Mimi Greenwood Knight
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”
— Marcus Tullius Cicero
We all enjoy being around people who are naturally grateful. And most of us try to cultivate an attitude of gratitude in ourselves. But did you realize there’s a connection between being grateful and your mental and physical health?
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
– Albert Einstein
Here’s what research is finding.
- A study in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being concluded that subjects who wrote down what they’re thankful for just before bed fell asleep faster and stayed asleep longer.
- According to a study in the journal Personal Relationships, being thankful for the little things your partner does can lead to a stronger relationship.
- A 1995 study in the American Journal of Cardiology showed that appreciation and positive emotions may be beneficial in the treatment of hypertension and in reducing the likelihood of sudden death in patients with congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease.
- A University of Utah study showed that gratefulness is linked with optimism, and optimism has been linked to better and stronger immune health.
- A study presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association found that teenagers who possess a positive, grateful outlook on life are better behaved in school and generally receive better grades, integrate better socially, and experience better satisfaction with life.
- A 2003 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude can boost pro-social behaviors, such as helping and lending emotional support to others, while a series of experiments detailed in the same journal concluded that a daily practice of listing all the things for which you’re thankful is linked with a brighter outlook on life and a greater sense of positivity.
The good news is that gratitude, like other good habits, can be learned. Try these gratitude-fostering exercises.
- Keep a gratitude journal where you write down specifically what you’re thankful for.
- Make a habit of talking about the things you’re grateful for to reinforce your feelings.
- Take a break a few times a day to focus on a spirit of thankfulness.
- Find people who have made a difference in your life and tell them so (in person or in a letter).
- Surround yourself with thankful people—gratitude is contagious.
- Like any other good habit, gratitude gets easier with daily practice. Let today be the first day of your healthy, grateful life
Journal Your Way toward Gratitude
It might seem old-fashioned, but journaling is a great way to develop an attitude of gratitude in your life. Take a little time each day to record in writing a few things for which you’re grateful. Use these prompts as a jumping off point and you might be surprise where your gratitude journaling will take you.
- List 10 hobbies or habits that bring you joy.
- Describe a family tradition for which you’re grateful.
- Describe the last time someone helped solve a problem for you.
- Write about a teacher or mentor who impacted your life.
- How is your life better today than it was a year ago?
- Describe your favorite location in your house and why you like it.
- Who made you smile in the past 24 hours and how?
- Who’s the one friend you can always rely on?
- Describe a favorite pet.
- What’s a mistake you made that ultimately led to a positive experience?
- What do you like the most about your town or city?
- What have you learned this week for which you’re thankful?
- What recent purchase has added value to your life?
- Is there someone you’ve never met who has impacted your life in a positive way?
- What do other people like about you?
- What’s your favorite part of your daily routine?