This is a guide covering gratitude.
Gratitude is a neglected emotion because we doubt its potential based on its simplicity.
But as ostensibly plain and boring gratitude may seem, it is an extremely powerful way to uplift your mood, increase happiness, and it can act as an antidote for stress.
Besides, it is also true that when it comes to taking care of your mental health, you should consider making long-term changes to your lifestyle, a process that requires much patience and gratitude.
Further, it would be wrong to think of gratitude only as an emotion. Gratitude is not only a feeling; it is also a state, a trait, or a dispositional/character quality that distinguishes a person with gratitude.
But gratitude makes its importance clear either way. The benefits of gratitude can be felt and proven in any condition it may exist.
According to this research, a group of participants instructed to write a gratitude letter to whomever they felt grateful for something in their life showed an increase in their happiness and subjective well-being even 4 to 12 months after the intervention.
This means that the benefits that can be had from practicing gratitude can keep on paying dividends for longer.
But before diving into the importance of gratitude and the benefits that could result from practicing it daily, we need to first understand what gratitude is? How and why does it affect our mental health so positively?
We’ll be covering the following topics (click on a bullet point to jump to that section):
What is Gratitude?
Gratitude means to feel appreciative and thankful for something positive that was done to us. Far from being indebtedness, as it is usually understood to be, it is a state of joyful willingness rather than compulsion.
Our gratefulness is a sign that we appreciate and give thanks for the other person’s kindness.
Gratitude is pure and not transactional like indebtedness. Although we do feel obliged to do something equally kind for our benefactor, the motivations behind our actions differ when we feel grateful.
Robert Emmons, a leading scientific expert on the science of gratitude, has identified gratitude as consisting of two distinct parts:
- One, we feel gratitude when we recognize that someone has done something good for us that we didn’t deserve in the first place.
- Two, the positivity of the feeling results from the fact that we place the source of the good outside of ourselves.
It is the second reason that places the importance of gratitude beyond just a feel-good exercise in mental health.
Gratitude promotes prosocial behavior and is responsible for not only establishing new relations but also plays a significant role in maintaining them.
As a dispositional trait, we feel gratitude as a pervasive sense of thankfulness for everything in life. Gratitude makes you think differently.
It makes you look at life with joy and as a place replete with opportunities. Thoughts of abundance are the fruits of gratitude.
Can You Practice Gratitude Deliberately?
So can you become a more grateful person? Or is it just something people are born with?
Thankfully, the deliberate practice of gratitude can equally be effective at bringing about its benefits.
Gratitude can reorient our thinking from toxicity and negativity to optimism and happiness.
If we feel stressed, we tend to narrow down on the problems that can make us lose perspective. Gratitude does the opposite.
It opens up the world before us enabling us to take in the view from afar and gain perspective.
To be more grateful is, therefore, a matter of our thinking and something that is definitely within our control.
The fact that we are ourselves in control of our gratitude has been preached by world religions and moral philosophies for thousands of years.
Why is Gratitude Important?
Feelings of lack, envy, or entitlement make us look at life with a lens that has lost its color capacity. Switching to the lens of gratitude will make us look at life as colorful, warm, and a fun place to be.
Gratitude has many physical, psychological, and social benefits that underscore the importance of gratitude in our lives.
Numerous studies have found a causal and recurring linkage between gratitude and happiness. It has especially been found to increase one’s sense of subjective well-being and reduce depressive symptoms.
The importance of gratitude is not limited to improving aspects of mental health alone.
Practicing gratitude in our everyday life can increase the quality of our relationships, deepen our connections at home and work, and produce lasting effects on our overall health.
The importance of gratitude on the societal level has been regarded as vital to maintaining healthy social relationships.
It has been proven that gratitude can lead to more socially inclusive behavior, and it can go on to play a pivotal role in forming and maintaining relations.
How Does Gratitude Change Your Life?
So how does gratitude produce such positive effects on our lives?
Our focus on constantly chasing material has made us nothing more than hedonistic apes. We seek to gratify our desires immediately.
The constant materialism stresses us out and the desires keep on increasing. Gratitude has the opposite effect.
It makes us focus on the present, and in doing so, we recognize that we have so much more that we had taken for granted.
It makes us happy not because it promises us all the things that we can have in the future, but it makes us look upon the things and people we have in the present as equally precious.
Further, if we are constantly focused on the things that we lack, we will miss out on opportunities that are lying right under our noses.
To communicate, to love, to savor, to laugh, to dance, and to live are all the opportunities that are here in the present, which gratitude promises us only if we let it into our lives.
Another way gratitude works so well is that it puts the source of our happiness outside of us. Be they your friends, your family, or some higher power, placing the source of goodness outside of yourself makes you believe in a caring universe.
What are the Benefits of Gratitude?
As mentioned earlier, the benefits of gratitude extend into areas of social life, career, relationships, and general well-being. Gratitude can reduce stress and eliminate depressive feelings by boosting self-esteem.
The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions holds that when we feel positive emotions, like gratitude, it can increase our cognitive abilities along with creativity.
Gratitude helps us deal with stress effectively, which can make us more resilient as a professional.
The importance of gratitude has also been noticed in a study that examined its effects on reducing symptoms or downright avoiding burnout.
We can all benefit from practicing gratitude each day.
You can check out this article for further information on how to incorporate a gratitude practice into your life.
15 Health Benefits of Practicing Gratitude
After we have looked at what gratitude is, the importance of gratitude, and what benefits of gratitude can we potentially see in our lives, let’s now look at those benefits in a bit more detail here.
1. Improves Immunity
According to positive psychology, body and mind are in constant communication. Therefore, the quality of our thoughts always has an imprint on our bodies.
According to one research, negative and toxic thinking can offset the body’s hormone balance and weaken the immune system as a result.
Alternatively, optimistic thinking fostered by positive emotions, like gratitude, can lead to better immunity.
Gratitude has also been found to increase the quality and duration of sleep in one study on the relationship between gratitude and sleep.
Gratitude influences sleep qualitatively by putting our pre-sleep negative thinking patterns at rest.
3. Lowers Stress
Gratitude makes us less materialistic. By removing ourselves from the center of our thoughts, we give other people (benefactor) to be the center of our attention.
Selflessness leads to a lowering of stress.
4. Alleviates Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety
Research has found that gratitude letter writing reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Although depression as a medical and mental health issue is a serious condition that needs to be treated with the help of proper psychological care, the researchers concluded that gratitude helps in alleviating temporary depressive episodes.
5. Sense of Well-Being
Another research found that gratitude elevates our subjective sense of well-being.
The importance of gratitude in enhancing our quality of life is undeniably proven by psychologists through many clinical types of research.
The feeling, state, and trait of gratitude can lead to an optimistic mindset.
Optimism and positive visualization can lead to better adherence to medication schedules in patients according to one study.
Gratitude influences optimism, which in turn, positively influences our mental and physical health.
7. Taking Care of Yourself
People who are grateful for the things they have are more responsible when it comes to taking care of those things.
In the absence of materialistic feelings, they focus on themselves and improve their lives through reading, exercising, and diet.
8. Energy Levels Increase
As you start letting gratitude into your life, its benefits will manifest in many forms. One of the benefits of gratitude is also an increase in energy levels.
When you start having better sleep, exercising, and create an optimistic mindset, your energy levels will see a substantial increase as a consequence.
All of us face various forms of stress. The importance of gratitude as a stress-coping mechanism is unique.
Although there are many other forms of stress-coping mechanisms, gratitude, according to this study, is uniquely effective at relieving stress.
10. Live Longer
All the benefits of gratitude highlighted here automatically lead to greater life satisfaction.
Exercising, dieting, sleep, and a whole host of benefits that can be derived from practicing gratitude in our lives lead to a long life as a side effect.
11. Helps in Delaying Gratification (Self-Control)
The famous marshmallow experiment demonstrated that successful people are highly disciplined and can delay gratification.
Certain emotions, like sadness, however, limit one’s capacity to delay gratification.
On the other hand, feelings of gratitude have been positively linked with increasing our powers of discipline and delaying the immediate reward.
12. Helps in Avoiding Burnout
Research has shown that gratitude can help professional athletes avoid burnout.
Gratitude puts the mind in an optimistic mood and, likely, the negating effect of gratitude on materialism (or extrinsic factors) can be the cause of its positive effect on stress management.
13. Makes You More Present
Gratitude helps us feel more present.
Dispositional gratitude or generally living with gratitude means that one is always present with one’s blessings.
A grateful person is reminded of the blessings of the benefactor by staying present.
14. Eliminates Negative and Toxic Feelings
The importance of gratitude is not only manifested in it improving the quality of our lives and bringing positivity and sunshine, but it also lies greatly in restricting the incidence of negative ruminations.
Excessively dwelling on negative thoughts and toxic feelings, like envy and resentment, lead to a decrease in our overall life satisfaction.
15. It Helps You Relax
The importance of gratitude as a stress management exercise is evident from scientific experiments.
Focusing on the positive in life can make us feel relaxed.
There is no better way to silence the chatter in your mind than a little gratitude.
Gratitude is not a recent concept; it has been preached as a moral virtue by various religious and moral philosophies for thousands of years.
Modern science is just now discovering the importance of gratitude for living a healthy life.
We should practice gratitude in our daily life to see the benefits accrue over time.
You should also check out this guide on writing a gratitude journal.
Sikandar is opinionated on a diverse set of topics that include, but are not limited to, Productivity, Health, Fitness, Motivation, and Career. He is in love with the written word and writes mainly to help others on their self-actualizing journeys. A journalist by education, getting to the bottom of things is his modus operandi. Often, he finds himself moonlighting as a life coach to his family, friends, and colleagues. He can be reached at his LinkedIn for collaboration.