10 Reasons Why Gratitude is Good for You

smiley face stickyI think many people nowadays have heard that gratitude is good for us, but if you haven’t, or want a recap on how and why, here’s 10 reasons below. Please share them with others so that more people enjoy the benefits of gratitude.

 

1. It’s good for mental health

Studies show that a regular gratitude practice (like keeping a daily or weekly gratitude journal) boosts happiness. Research that compared people who were asked to count blessings with people asked to count hassles and annoyances found that the gratitude groups were around 25% happier.

2. It helps counter stress

We get stressed when we put all of our attention on hassles, frustration, and problems. Gratitude takes our minds away from these things, thereby relieving the stress that they bring. And gratitude as a practice improves our ability to switch our focus in the moment and also helps us notice more of the good things in life that we wouldn’t normally pay as much attention to.

3. It inspires us to exercise more

We feel better when we practice gratitude and many people who do so are then inspired to do things that are good for them, including exercise. One of the findings of a 2003 research study was that people who kept weekly gratitude journals exercised more than those who kept hassles journals.

4. It helps us achieve our goals

Over a measured 2-month period, research also showed that people making gratitude lists were found to be more likely to make progress towards important personal goals. Not only do we feel more motivated when we feel good but we are also more creative and more likely to spot solutions to our problems.

5. It makes us kinder

One finding of gratitude research is that people keeping daily gratitude lists are more likely to help someone in need, when compared with people making lists of hassles.

6. Makes you feel less lonely (more connected)

Making us more kind also improves our relationships and connections with others. Some participants in gratitude studies indeed report feeling more connected to people. Some people practicing gratitude also feel more connected and part of life as a whole. It increases their sense of belonging in the world.

7. It helps us sleep better

In his inspiring book, ‘Thanks: How the new science of gratitude can make you happier’, Robert Emmons, the world’s foremost gratitude researcher, encourages us to “count blessings, not sheep” if we can’t get to sleep. Moving the mind away from worries and stresses and towards good things helps relax us, making dropping off to sleep much more likely.

8. It makes you feel more in control of your life (more optimism)

After observing that gratitude is having a positive effect on life and emotions, we begin to feel more optimistic and in control of our lives, rather than being bounced around by life events. With renewed optimism and strength, gratitude can even help us to turn our lives around.

9. People like you better

Some gratitude practices involve thinking of people we’re grateful for and the reasons why. A side-effect of this is that it improves the quality of our relationships with them. It also helps us see the best in people and therefore bring out the best in them. Overall, it make us warmer towards others. People tend to like people like this.

10. Better Health

It’s good for our overall physical health and cardiovascular health. As well as making exercise more likely, some research shows that gratitude gives us better immune systems and even lower blood pressure.

Gratitude is a practice, and like all practices we need to be consistent to get best results. I recommend you make a big deal of your gratitude practice so that you are encouraged to be consistent. Get a nice journal and draw or paint the words, ‘My Gratitude Journal on It’. I like to use a journal with nice paper and also use a pen that feels nice.

You can keep it beside your bed or carry it around with you in your bag. You can keep note of things that occur daily that you’re grateful for, and even jot down reasons why you’re grateful for particular people in your life. I’d also recommend that you also include things you’re grateful for about yourself – your personality, your strengths, your talents, who you are, the way you are with people, animals, etc … anything, really, that reminds you that you are enough!

Happy journaling. 🙂

 

Notes and recommended reading:

Many of these points are from my own personal observations and from feedback from workshop participants.

All research quoted above can be found in the following two books:

Robert Emmons, ‘Thanks: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier’ (Mariner Books, 2008) (Amazon UK paperback) (Amazon.com paperback)

David R Hamilton PhD, ‘The Five Side Effects of Kindness’ (Hay House, 2017).  Amazon UK  Amazon.com  Amazon.com.au  Amazon.ca

A Few Healthy Thoughts

I wanted to start the year by offering a few healthy thoughts and pieces of advice that might help to get the year off to a fresher, healthier start. They’re all things that I think/do personally.

Slow Aging

Scientists around the world agree that free radicals accelerate the aging process. They are small molecules that are incomplete and so pinch energy from anything nearby, which might be important cells and even DNA, thus degrading the body.

Antioxidants mop up free radicals by supplying them with energy. Drinks like green tea, fruits like blueberries, spices like cinnamon, and even vitamin C are excellent antioxidants.

Practices like yoga, tai-chi, and meditation also mop up free radicals from the inside. Research at Harvard in 2008 showed that a short course in either of these practices activated genes that produced the body’s own antioxidants. A daily practice can definitely keep you younger.

Boost Your Immune System

Studies of cultures who live longest often reveals that they eat more than us. Well, not exactly more, but more ingredients.

As we increase the number of ingredients on our plate, we introduce a greater range of bacteria to our immune system. I know it sounds gross to talk about introducing bacteria, but our immune systems respond by developing immunity.

It works on a similar principle to how puppies and dogs can boost our immune systems. They bring in so much dirt on their paws that it exposes us to a wider spectrum of bacteria.

In time, our immune system becomes broader ranging and more robust. In some ways, it’s the opposite to living in an overly sterile environment, where the immune system doesn’t get a chance to build up because there’s not a diverse enough range of bacteria and other pathogens for it to tackle.

You want to protect yourself from getting the cold? Eat more…..ingredients.

Relax

A simple relaxation technique that I personally use when I feel stressed is that I interrupt the effect on my mind and nervous system by taking a few deep breaths. Sometimes I even take a sharp intake of breath, to interrupt the train of though that is producing the stress. This is a bit of a no brainer and most people know about it, but you’ll be surprised at how many people do know it but almost never do it.

Another thing I do is to picture the stress as an inflated balloon. Then I take a deep breath and as I exhale I imagine letting the air out of the balloon. The does 2 things to the body:

The first is that the breathing activates the vagus nerve, which controls the heart. As we exhale, the vagus nerve causes the heart rate to slow and blood pressure to drop, and our physiology moves toward the ‘rest and relax’ mode.

Secondly, the symbolic picture of the inflated balloon deflating represents the stress reducing. It tells our brain that we are feeling better. Psychologically, this eases our emotions.

I do this until I no longer feel uptight. It usually only takes a few breaths.

Gratitude to improve happiness

When life leaves us feeling frazzled, few of us realise that the ability to turn ourselves around lie within ourselves.

Research shows that a powerful antidote to feeling the blues is called a ‘gratitude intervention’. Many find it works even better than an antidepressant.

All you have to do is make a small list every day, preferably before going to bed at night, of 5-10 things that you are grateful for that happened in the last 24 hours.

And other studies have shown that a ‘kindness intervention’ can make us happier. The rules, here, are to choose one day of the week and commit 3-5 acts of kindness on it. Some people find it to be life changing.

 

Well, I hope those few simple thoughts are useful for you this month, and perhaps are also things you can recall from time to time throughout the year.

 

3 Reasons Why Gratitude is Good

happy people
Gratitude - saying 'yes' to life

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity… It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events.” Melody Beattie

 

So much of happiness is ‘all in the mind’, or at least it is a product of what we focus on.

We all make comparisons in life but quite often they are downward comparisons. We compare what we have to what we want (or think we want), and even though it’s not always conscious thinking, we conclude that what we have isn’t good enough.

It might be a job, a lifestyle, a house, car, or it might even be a husband or wife. But downward comparisons are sure to leave us feeling unhappy.

I think that part of the reason we do this is because on some level we are trying to create leverage to get us to act. ‘If it gets real bad – if I can see all the faults – then I’ll be motivated to change it,’ we think to ourselves. There are or course merits to this kind of thinking and there is definitely a call to use it sometimes. I certainly have at times in my life to create change.

But thinking in this way can also be a habit for many people, so much so that they look at the majority of things like this. The overall effect then is unhappiness, frustration, stress, and even depression as we become overwhelmed with the seeming multiple problems in life.

It’s a symptom of ‘the grass is always greener’ syndrome, as I call it. We’re always looking at other people’s grass and fail to notice the uniqueness of beauty of our own. It’s only when we do lie on our own grass that we realise that it actually feels really nice and that the sun shines on it just as it shines on other lawns.

My experience is that when we take the time to count our blessings, magic can happen in our lives. We start to notice stuff that was always there but we just hadn’t given it any attention. We have more energy and dwell less on our problems and worries.

Here are 3 reasons why gratitude is good for us. They’re based on published scientific studies as well as my own experiences.

 

1) Gratitude makes us happier

One study compared people making a short list of their blessings each week with another group making a list of their hassles (or burdens). It was called a Blessings vs Burdens study. After 10 weeks of doing this, the blessings group were 25% happier than the burdens group.

Isn’t that incredible? What a change we can make to our happiness, especially if we have gotten into the habit living life as if we’re in the burdens group.

2) Gratitude is good for the heart

Gratitude counteracts stress so ultimately it’s beneficial to the cardiovascular system. Mental and emotional stress can take a long-term toll on the heart, increasing stress hormone levels but also free radicals and inflammation – precursors to cardiovascular disease. So a side-effect of gratitude is improved cardiovascular health.

3) Gratitude helps us achieve

Focusing on things we’re grateful for helps us to notice even more things that we’re grateful for – it’s an upward cycle, like we surf a wave.

We become more attuned to the blessings instead of the burdens of life. This simple shift of focus increases our positive feelings, increases creativity, makes us feel more energetic, and we notice more opportunities in life. In these ways we are more able to shape our lives in the ways that we want.

 

I would also add another to the list. It’s perhaps not a benefit and therefore I haven’t included it as one of the 3. It’s that gratitude is a simple way of saying, ‘Thanks’ to the world, even when you don’t verbalise it. It’s a way of celebrating the validity of all life, and acknowledging its interrelatedness and the efforts that it takes to provide us with all that we need.

As a consequence, I have learned to resist less in life and give whatever I’m doing or being asked to do my complete attention. When we resist what is happening, or what we’re being asked to do, we only prolong it and create stress for ourselves.

I have discovered that happiness can be found in the simplest things, just by saying ‘Yes – thanks’ to much of what life presents to me. And it is from this space that I feel more contentment and personal energy and have been able to move towards other stuff that I have wanted in my life.

I think Martin Luther King had it right when he said, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well’.”

 

Gratitude Exercises

Here are two of my favourite gratitude exercises. You can focus on one or the other, or if you really want to go for it big style then you could do them both.

1) Every day for the next 21 days, make a list of 5-10 things that you’re grateful for. It can be people, things, how you’re feeling, events, circumstances, God, the Universe, your dog….whatever you can feel grateful for.

Try to alter your list as much as you can so that you’re not writing the same things every day. This exercise works really well if you do it first thing in the morning or just before going to bed.

2) Think of a person in your life and think of all the reasons why you’re grateful for that person – what they have contributed to your life (or are contributing), how they make you feel, what they do, who they are, what they do for others, etc.

Try to do it for a different person every day until you have gone through all of your loved ones. Then you could extend it to friends and co-workers. Then, if you feel really brave, you might even try the exercise on people who cause you stress or who have hurt or offended you in the past.

As you do this, watch the way your relationships with some of these people change.

 

The 21-Day Complaint-Free Challenge

Have you heard of the 21-day Complaint-Free Challenge?

This is where you try to last a full 21 days without making a single complaint, criticism, or unfair judgement about someone or something. You keep track of your progress by switching a purple complaint-free band from one wrist to the other each time you complain (obtainable from www.acomplaintfreeworld.org).

As a speaker in the self-help field, I thought the 21-day challenge would be simple. Actually, it was more difficult than I thought. I quickly realised that I complained more than I thought I did, especially when I was driving, and I had a habit of pointing out to others when they complained. Of course, that can be viewed as merely an observation, and an observation is OK, but sometimes it can be a complaint. This is when the ‘observation’ is fuelled with stress or negative emotion.

After a few weeks of repeatedly having to go back to day one, my partner, Elizabeth, decided to try too (I think, seeing my rather fruitless attempt, she reckoned she could get to 21 days before me). As the days went on, I had begun to notice that Elizabeth didn’t always notice when she complained so she didn’t move her band. Now, she was telling me how easy she was finding it and that was kind of helping to brew some stress in me. I mean, I was doing it PROPERLY.

There was one evening after I had gone 17 days without a single complaint – only that night and three more to go until I completed the challenge – when we were watching a Saturday night TV show (X-Factor). Elizabeth made a comment about one of the acts. I thought it was an unfair judgement and I pointed this out, and that she should now move her band to the other wrist. Elizabeth countered that it was an observation.

This is where, with more than a hint of frustration, I pointed out that she had been making a little too many ‘observations’ of late and palming them off as such. Of course, that was a complaint from me because my voice was definitely fuelled with a negative emotional charge.

Damn it! I had to go right back to day one again. Aaarrrrrgghhh. Elizabeth thought it was hilarious!

Anyway, I went 21 days straight shortly after that. One thing I noticed right away was that I felt really good throughout and afterwards – it had become a habit. It’s funny, but people don’t realise how bad complaining makes them feel and how good being kind, patient, and gentle makes them feel. The 21-day challenge can be life changing for many people.

I also noticed that people around me were happier too. One surprising observation I made was that there were certain people around whom I did my occasional little bits of complaining. I had in mind that they enjoyed having a moan. Actually, when I stopped complaining around them, they seemed to be much happier. This was a major lesson for me.

It’s not so much the effect on you when you go complaint-free. It has a huge impact upon those around you too.

You are contagious – your emotions and your behaviour – whether you like it or not. When you complain, your negative emotion is contagious. When you talk about positive or happy things, your happiness is contagious.

So the question becomes, what do you want to spread? If you want to change the world in some way, change yourself first.

Then the world will be happier!