Practice Being Grateful and Reap the Benefits


The benefits of gratitude are many and profound. Being grateful is shown to improve both physical and mental health, psychological wellbeing and attitude, and our relationships with others. Practicing gratitude has even been shown to rewire our brains for the better—it is a truly powerful life-changing tool.

Reducing physiological stress and improving sleep

Just this year, one study reports that a short, two-week daily gratitude writing intervention completed by 119 women that were either working or studying at University College London increased the women’s perceived wellbeing.

The enhanced wellbeing achieved from being grateful was associated with reductions in blood pressure and heart rate, as well as improved daily sleep quality. Similarly, another study suggests that writing down a few grateful sentiments before bed results in sleeping better for longer, primarily due to having more positive thoughts just before nodding off.

Reducing physical ailments and increasing exercise

In another study, a simple gratitude exercise, where 63 students were asked to write down five things they are grateful for per week for ten weeks, resulted in the students having fewer physical complaints (from acne breakouts to headaches) and they also reported spending 40 minutes more exercising.

Having greater energy and motivation to exercise is unsurprising considering two experiments, totalling 1,900 participants, reported a strong correlation between gratitude and vitality, i.e. feeling alive, energetic and enthusiastic.

Health benefits for those with illness and disease

Practicing being grateful is also thought to keep the doctor at bay. Being more grateful is associated with better coping and management of terminal conditions like HIV and cancer, as well as faster recovery from certain medical procedures and positive changes in immune system functioning. Moreover, having high levels of gratitude is a good predictor of a high quality of life for people with chronic illnesses.

Psychological benefits of gratitude

Generally, gratitude has been shown in multiple studies to generally make us feel good and increase positive moods such as joy, interest and alertness, as well as improve self-esteem, for both shorter and longer gratitude interventions.

The study, involving two weeks of keeping a daily gratitude diary, also led to reductions in emotional distress as well as increases in optimism and positive emotional style. This was reflected in the study involving practicing being grateful once per week for 10 weeks, which led the gratitude practitioners to feel better about their lives as a whole and feel more optimistic about their expectations for the upcoming week. Gratitude increasing optimism is very significant regarding psychological wellbeing as greater optimism not only increases general happiness and improves our health, it has also been shown to increase lifespan by as much as a few years.

Experiencing gratitude can also have a profound effect on our memories. Gratitude practice has not only been shown to increase the recall of positive memories, having a dash of gratitude when recalling unpleasant memories can help us better emotionally process the negative events, thus bringing emotional closure to these incidents. In fact, some negative and neutral aspects of memories have been shown to be transformed into positive ones through practicing gratitude.

Another interesting observation is the negative correlation between envy and gratitude. That is, as levels of gratitude increase, levels of envy decrease. Another great benefit of gratitude is that simply focusing on sincerely feeling appreciation for what you have been given in life for two minutes was shown to immediately reduce levels of materialism.

Relationship benefits of gratitude

We have recently made new strides in understanding how gratitude improves interpersonal relationships. This 2015, a study published in the journal Emotion revealed that by expressing gratitude to new acquaintances, their perceptions of your friendliness and thoughtfulness increases, making the new friend more likely to want to continue the relationship and provide a means of future contact. Basically, being confident in expressing gratitude is a good way to make new friends.

In other research, practicing gratitude resulted in participants being more prosocial by helping someone with a personal problem or providing emotional support. Moreover, the same study reported that gratitude’s positive influence on wellbeing (increased positive moods and life satisfaction) were also apparent to the participants’ spouses or significant others, which is safe to assume to be attractive and help foster an even stronger relationship.

Expressing gratitude has been shown to improve feelings of belonging and a sense of community. For example, one study involving 133 college students found that those with higher levels of gratitude had higher family satisfaction.

Expressing gratitude to a relationship partner or a friend has been positively associated with enhancing the expresser’s perception of the communal strength of the relationship, where communal strength refers to a person’s degree of motivation to respond to a the others needs. Expressing gratitude in a relationship also increases the comfort felt in expressing any relationship concerns and enhances how positively you view that friend or partner.

In other words, being openly grateful for a relationship increases the motivation to respond to the partner’s needs and allows room to address any issues negatively affecting the relationship while framing the relationship in a positive light, therefore providing a route to strengthening the relationship even further.

Gratitude has also proven useful for improving business relationships. The benefits of gratitude for business relationships include reducing the financial impatience experienced when we tend to discount the value of a delayed financial transaction; improving employee performance through praise; and reducing the number of poor business decisions made under stress.

Learning how to be grateful

Thankfully, being grateful isn’t something that you are born with, but it’s something you can learn easily. The flip side is that we can also fall out of practice with being grateful pretty easily too, especially in our modern, high paced and often stressful lives. That is why practicing gratitude as a tool is great to start with, although moving towards fostering gratitude as a general way of being, as found for practicing mindfulness, has an even greater positive influence on our lives.

  • Counting blessings
    The counting blessings intervention is commonly used in gratitude research. It’s easy peasy. On a weekly basis for at least 6-12 weeks, think back over the events of the past week and write down five or more things that happened for which you are grateful or thankful. Many find this starts out quite difficult, yet once the gratitude river starts flowing reasons to be grateful in life suddenly seem to multiply! Setting a reminder on your phone at a time you know you are not too busy each week is a great way to ensure you keep up with your practice.
  • Daily bedtime gratitude journal
    All it requires is noting one or more things you are grateful for on a daily basis. If you do this before bedtime, by clearing your mind and focussing on identifying things to be grateful for and revelling in your feelings of gratitude, you can improve your sleep as well as experience the other benefits of gratitude.
  • Expressing gratitude towards others
    Experiment with expressing gratitude at work, with your partner, with your family and with your friends. Expressing gratitude verbally to at least one person each day will not only strengthen that particular relationship and have added benefits for yourself, you may have a profound positive effect on that individual that they in turn spread to others.

The present body of research strongly supports the idea that gratitude practice really makes perfect. The more gratitude practice you perform in daily life, the deeper the benefits go and the more profound and life-altering the benefits truly are. Ultimately, moving away from gratitude being a tool, towards fostering gratitude as a general way of being, as also found for mindfulness, is where the real magic is.


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Image via MyImages – Micha / Shutterstock.

Carla Clark, PhD

Carla Clark, PhD, is BrainBlogger's Psychology and Psychiatry Section Editor and a scientific consultant, writer and researcher in fields including psychology and neuropsychology, as well as biotechnology, molecular biology and biophysical chemistry. She is also our newly appointed Digital and Social Media Manager. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter @GeekReports
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