There are two components to gratitude. The first is the affirmation of something good in our lives. The second is that gratitude forces us to look outside ourselves (outside of the ego) for the goodness. Gratitude can have transformative effects because it allows us to be present in the moment. It encourages us to appreciate the value of what we have. The more we can appreciate that value, the less likely we are to take it for granted. Gratitude also has the tendency to block negative emotions like jealousy, resentment or regret because you cannot feel grateful and resentful at the same time. Research suggests that people who have high levels of gratitude have low levels of resentment and envy.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
There is a complex relationship between thoughts, mood, brain chemistry, endocrine function and other physiological systems in our bodies. Our thoughts can actually trigger physiological changes in our body that affect our mental and physical health. In effect, what you think affects how you feel on an emotional and physical level. So if you increase your positive thoughts, like gratitude, you can increase your sense of well-being as well as, perhaps, objective measures of physical health (like reduced symptoms of illness and increased immune functioning).
Scientists have recently started to study the effects of gratitude noting that those people who practice gratitude consistently enjoy a host of benefits. People who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis have been found to exercise more regularly, have fewer physical symptoms, feel better about their lives as a whole and feel more optimistic about their upcoming week as compared to those who keep journals recording the stressors or neutral events of their lives. Daily discussions of gratitude results in:
- Higher reported levels of alertness
- Sleep quality & duration
Grateful people also report lower levels of depression and stress, although they do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life. People who think about, talk about, or write about gratitude daily are more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or offered emotional support to another person. Those with a disposition towards gratitude are found to place less importance on material goods, are less likely to judge their own or others’ success in terms of possessions accumulated, are less envious of wealthy people and are more likely to share their possessions with others. Research even suggests that daily gratitude practices may have some preventative benefits in warding off coronary artery disease and lowering blood pressure.
Do yourself a favor and try it. This week, before you get out of bed, list three things you’re grateful for. It’s habit forming and it will change your life. For four years, I’ve been writing down ten things a day for which I’m thankful. I’ll be honest and confess that coffee has made my list quite a few times.