5 Mental Health Benefits of Gratitude
In America, we often think about gratitude more as Thanksgiving approaches, but Emmons, the leading scientific expert in gratitude, teaches about gratitude as a lifestyle. His research consistently reveals that gratitude improves all aspects of our health: physically, socially, and psychologically.
People who cultivate gratitude into their lifestyles have stronger immune systems, so they are less physically sick. They also sleep better and tend to take better care of their health by exercising, eating healthfully, and getting regular check-ups.
Socially, gratitude opens the door to ongoing relationships, so grateful people are more supported and feel less lonely. They are also more generous, forgiving, and compassionate towards others.
In addition to physical and social benefits, gratitude benefits us psychologically. Here are five psychological benefits of gratitude.
1.Creates More Happiness and Optimism
Emmons’ first gratitude study revealed that after ten weeks of writing in a gratitude journal once a week for ten weeks, participants were 25% happier than those who didn’t journal their gratitude.
Being happier in itself sounds lovely, but happiness also creates wonderful things to happen in your life. You’re optimistic when you’re happy, which creates better social and work relationships, satisfying marriages, quality work, and higher income. Happy people enjoy more energy, better health, less stress, and longer life.
We often think that a healthy and prosperous life is what creates happiness, but research reveals that happiness precedes these successful life outcomes in life. And how can we increase our happiness to have a healthier and more satisfying life? Practice gratitude.
2. Positively Changes Your Brain
By practicing gratitude, we can change our brains to automatically default to an attitude of gratitude. How amazing is that?
Hebb’s law is a theory that states, “neurons that fire together wire together.” Each time we think a thought, we are creating neural pathways in our brains. Each time we think of a negative thought, we are building connections in our brains to think negatively in the future. The same happens with positive thoughts.
This means whatever we pay attention to grows stronger as the neural pathway connections in our brains grow stronger. When we practice gratitude, our attention shifts and creates pathways for a lifestyle of gratitude and all its benefits.
3. Eases Symptoms of Depression
When we experience gratefulness, our bodies release dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, which are all “feel good” hormones. This allows a person to experience an overall sense of well-being.
Along with the hormone boost, gratitude reduces neural pathways for toxic emotions and depression, according to Emmon’s research.
4. Reduces stress
When we think about what we are thankful for, our parasympathetic nervous system kicks in. This decreases the stress hormone, cortisol, and may increase the bonding hormone, oxytocin.
5. Increases Emotional Resilience
No doubt recovering from trauma is a difficult journey. Research reveals that gratitude helps people recover from trauma and become more resilient. It appears that it takes a more extended time period of gratefulness to see the positive impacts.
As you can see, a lifestyle of thankfulness is powerful.
Gratitude is a choice, and there are many ways to incorporate it into your life:
- Keep a written gratitude journal
- Write thank-you notes
- Notice the little things you are thankful for
- Tell your loved ones why you appreciate and love them