A Healthier Tomorrow – The Health Benefits of Gratitude

A Healthier Tomorrow – The Health Benefits of Gratitude  

Imagine a Healthier Tomorrow

By Alison Page, CEO Western Wisconsin Health

Thanksgiving is a special time of year. It signals the beginning of the Holiday Season, a time of gratitude and renewal that prepares us for the year to come. Thanksgiving is a time to pause and take stock of the many things in our lives for which we are grateful.

This Thanksgiving, you, or people you know may be experiencing stresses that go well beyond the disappointment of not being able to eat turkey with friends and family. Financial strains, quarantines, distance learning, isolation and illness are the reality for many this year. But even in the face of serious challenges, purposefully choosing to be grateful is worth the effort.

What is gratitude?   Gratitude is simply defined as the state of being grateful. It involves expressing thanks or appreciation for the positive things in your life and how they affect you. This can range from acknowledging a beautiful sunset to the feeling of thanks that comes from the gift to life itself.

As it turns out, practicing gratitude more frequently than once a year, say daily, will make your life better on many fronts. Specifically, practicing gratitude has the following proven benefits:

Gratitude opens the door to more relationships. Not only does saying “thank you” constitute good manners, but showing appreciation can help you win new friends. A study that looked at this found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship. So, whether you thank a stranger for holding the door or send a thank-you note to a co-worker who helped you with a project, acknowledging other people’s contributions can lead to new opportunities.

Gratitude improves physical health. Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people. Not surprisingly, grateful people are also 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 further longevity.

Gratitude improves psychological health. Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Multiple studies have been conducted on the link between gratitude and well-being. Research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.

Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. Grateful people are more likely to behave in a prosocial manner, even when others behave less kindly, according to a study done by the University of Kentucky. Study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge. 

Grateful people sleep better. Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep. Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you may sleep better and longer.

Gratitude improves self-esteem. One study found that gratitude increased athletes’ self-esteem, an essential component to optimal performance. Other studies have shown that gratitude reduces social comparisons. Rather than becoming resentful toward people who have more money or better jobs—a major factor in reduced self-esteem—grateful people are able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments. 

Gratitude increases mental strength. For years, research has shown gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma.  Vietnam War veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder. As it turns out, gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11.  Recognizing all that you have to be thankful for—even during the worst times—fosters resilience.

Living with an attitude of gratitude is life changing. You can practice gratitude in lots of different ways. Perhaps you can try one or two of these gratitude exercises. Start a gratitude journal. Every night before bed, jot down three things that you encountered that day for which you are grateful. Pay attention to the little things in life, like the birds in the trees. Tell someone you are grateful for them or for something they did, even if it was a long time ago. Do something kind for someone in your life to express your gratitude. Meditate on the positive aspects of your life or give thanks through prayer.

Whether you choose to write a few sentences in a gratitude journal or simply take a moment to silently acknowledge all that is good in your life, giving thanks can transform your world. 

Happy Thanksgiving. I am grateful for the opportunity to share ideas with you every month.

Thank you to Amy Morin from Psychology Today for some of the content shared in this column.