Research has shown that reminding yourself constantly of all that you have to be grateful for can yield remarkable rewards, both physically and mentally. Make gratitude a lifelong habit so you can continuously reap these four scientifically-backed health benefits of gratitude that you probably never knew.
Surprising Scientific Health Benefits of Gratitude
1. Gratitude Is a Stress Buffer
“It's impossible to feel stress, anger, or any other negative emotion, and appreciation at the same time,” Jesse Simpson, a personal development and wellness coach with Chicago-founded Ama La Vida Coaching, says.
A report published in the Journal of Happiness Studies backs him up. Highlighting the relationship between daily feelings of gratitude and well-being, the report noted that those who regularly devoted time to gratitude throughout their day felt reduced negative effects of daily stress.
Simpson, a former U.S. Marine and firefighter, says that even in life’s darkest hours, it’s possible to find something to be thankful for.
“The fact that our hearts spontaneously beat and the sun rises is enough," he says. "Without either, we wouldn't be alive to experience any of this.”
2. Gratitude Makes Your Heart Healthy
And feeling grateful for your beating heart can help make it healthier, too. Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis and a leading scientific expert on the science of gratitude, claims that an individual’s mindset can greatly affect the body’s biochemistry, especially as it relates to heart disease. Feeling grateful about your life, he says, lowers stress and gives you a reason to relax.
“Gratitude is associated with higher levels of good cholesterol (HDL), lower levels of bad cholesterol (LDL), and lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure, both at rest and in the face of stress,” he explains.
Further research builds on this evidence. For example, the Harvard Medical School’s GRACE study (Gratitude Research in Acute Coronary Events) showed that patients who practiced gratitude in the two weeks following an acute coronary event had healthier hearts than those who didn’t.
The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkley also revealed that in a study of 185 heart patients, those with a more “grateful disposition” had less systemic inflammation.
3. Gratitude Helps You Sleep Better
Gratitude is also related to better sleep quality. Researchers at the University of Manchester in England studied 400 adults to measure the effects of thinking grateful thoughts just before going to bed. They found that those who focused on positive thoughts of gratitude fell asleep faster, slept more deeply, and for longer than those who counted sheep rather than their blessings.
“Cultivating feelings of gratitude is the best way to end your day,” Simpson says. “Before falling asleep, consciously shift your focus to all of the things that are going great in your life and around the world. It’s too easy to get caught up in dramas, judgement, failure, regret, worry, and negative self-talk.”
He also reminds us that, “While you sleep, your brain is processing all of the day’s memories and experiences. By reflecting on what we are grateful for before we fall asleep, we’re attracting more things to be grateful for tomorrow, too.”
4. Gratitude Makes You More Motivated
It has been argued that an “attitude of gratitude” often encourages people to accept the status quo. Emmons disagrees. In a 2011 study conducted with his colleague, Anjali Mishra, Emmons notes that unlike passivity, gratitude enhances “effortful goal striving.”
In the study, participants were asked to list the goals they wanted to accomplish within the next two months and were then randomly assigned either to keep a daily gratitude journal, jot down musings around their daily problems, or follow-through on neutral writing exercises. By the end of the study, those in the gratitude journaling group reported making the most progress toward their goals during the two-month period.
So as you go about your day, pledge to make daily gratitude a habit that lasts. Both Simpson and Emmons suggest keeping a gratitude journal or, if writing isn't your thing, just take some time each morning or evening to think a little on what you’re grateful for. After all, a few moments of reminding yourself why it’s good to be alive can make that life better, brighter, and healthier.