The word gratitude stems from the Latin word gratia, which means grace or grateful. Harnessing gratitude can help us recognize and appreciate how much we have, whether it’s tangible or intangible. Even when things aren’t always sunny, gratitude can help people connect to something larger than themselves, such as nature, a higher power, the universe, or even life as a whole. Here are some health benefits of expressing gratitude and ways you can cultivate it on your own.
Psychological research has shown that expressing gratitude can have great health benefits, such as better sleep¹, lower blood pressure, and general improvements in happiness and well-being, which can be linked to a longer life span.
Dr. Glenn Fox, a faculty member from USC who studied the neural correlation between gratitude, empathy, and neuroplasticity, found links between gratitude and brain structures that are tied to reward, stress relief, and social bonding.² This is due to a chemical hormone in the brain called oxytocin, which is mostly known for its role in the reproductive system but also controls key aspects of human behavior such as social ties.
A study conducted by two psychologists from the University of California Davis and the University of Miami found that there is a clear association between gratitude and an individual’s well-being. The psychologists gathered 192 undergraduate participants and asked them to write a few sentences each week. One group wrote about things that they were grateful for, a second group wrote about things that irritated or displeased them, and a third group wrote about events that affected them in general, without an emphasis on positive or negative experiences.
After 10 weeks, results showed that the first group (those who consistently wrote about gratitude) were more optimistic and positive about their lives. According to the study, that group also exercised more (nearly 1.5 hours more/week) and had fewer visits to physicians compared to the other two groups.³
Consistently acknowledging and reflecting on what you are grateful for each week can benefit your overall mood and even promote increased physical movement and mental wellness. When you start to feel good inside, you naturally will want to do other things that maintain that mindset, such as keeping a regular workout schedule, eating clean, and surrounding yourself with like-minded positive people.
Gratitude is a social emotion that isn’t always the easiest to express due to its vulnerability, but that lets it strengthen relationships with those closest to you. It not only enhances our social relationships, but it serves as a signal to others that we are good, fair, and able to express how we feel.
Anyone can take the time to share their appreciation towards someone or something, such as expressing gratitude towards a romantic partner, a coworker, friends, or family. Doing so helps lift their spirits knowing that you acknowledge and thank them for something they did or just for who they are in general, and can also help you foster positive emotions and serve as a reminder to keep pushing through tough times.
1. Keep a Gratitude Journal
Making it a habit to consistently write down one to three things you are grateful for on a regular basis can help keep you grounded and appreciative of everything life has to offer. You can even use the journal to reflect at the end of each month or year and see how far you have come. This journal can also serve as a reminder for those days when you need a little pick-me-up.
2. Reach out to a good friend or family member
Oftentimes, we get so wrapped up in our lives that we unintentionally neglect to share our love and thanks with friends and family. Next time you see someone you love, make sure to just let them know how grateful you are that they are in your life. You never know who needs to hear those words, and it will likely mean much more to them than you think.
3. Switch your point of view
There are many moments in life where we hit a bump in the road and want to spew negativity in the heat of the moment. While that is completely normal, try to practice seeing the silver lining in situations like this. By reconfiguring your brain to immediately think of “what can I do to make this situation positive” rather than focusing on the not-so-good aspects, your life can change immensely. You are responsible for your own thoughts and how you react or behave in negative situations, so why not turn it into something good?
4. Show love and respect to those around you
There are tons of ways to convey appreciation, and one of them is to simply show respect. As we have all learned in elementary school, treat others the way you would want to be treated: exhibiting patience, showing kindness and warmth, giving someone your undivided attention when they are speaking. When someone does something nice for you, doesn’t it feel amazing? Be that person to someone else!
5. Write a thank-you note
Whether you are writing a thank-you note to your parents, your dog, the mailman, your local barista, or even yourself, simple acts of gratitude like this can brighten up anyone’s day. And by letting someone know how thankful you are for them, you are also subconsciously helping yourself. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, build stronger relationships, relish the good times, and improve their overall well-being.
6. Think intentionally
Begin and end each day with intent. Start each day by thinking about what you appreciate and what you look forward to doing that day. Similarly, before going to bed, consider all that you are grateful for and think about any lessons you have learned so far. Doing these simple, intentional thinking exercises will improve your brain’s ability to dig deeper every time you ponder and reflect on gratitude.
7. Act without reward
Don’t do something just because you expect a reward or praise after doing it. Instead, train yourself to think selflessly and apply that to your everyday life. When you release your mind from the expectation of receiving something in return for doing something else, you can start to live life authentically.
8. Celebrate “little” wins
Many people seem to brush off these “little” wins because they appear insignificant. Whether it’s finding a good parking spot in the shade, a stranger letting you check out first at the grocery store, or even just hearing your favorite song on the radio, these small joyous moments can build up to something even bigger. It’s important to be present in the moment and take time to acknowledge and appreciate the small things that happen throughout your day.
9. Volunteer or donate
A great way to physically involve yourself in gratitude is by volunteering or donating things you don’t need. The more we give to others, the happier we may feel, which can lead to a healthier, longer life. By helping others, we are also helping ourselves gain a more positive outlook on life.
10. Participate in a small act of kindness
Sometimes, the little things in life are what make it so special. Paying for a stranger’s coffee, helping an elderly woman cross the street, letting a car merge in front of you in heavy traffic: all of these small actions represent kindness and can help both parties feel good, even though they don’t take a ton of effort or energy to do.