Brighten Your Life with Gratefulness
Part 2 of 3

Everyone knows saying thank you is the polite thing to do. It acknowledges kindness shown to you, expresses appreciation for the other person and might even provide a bit of inspiration or motivation for that person. But have you ever thought about how saying thanks affects you?

Gratitude improves your life in ways that you may have never considered. Saying “thanks” can help you...

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Name the last person who gave you something for which you were grateful. Chances are you named a family member, friend, colleague, or another important person in your life. Maybe your spouse gave you a compliment. Perhaps a professor gave you extra time to complete an assignment. Or maybe your friend gave you a great idea for a project.

Many people continue to contribute to your life—just as you contribute to their lives. When you’re grateful to them, you’re aware of the things they’ve done for you. And as you recognize their contributions to your life, you strengthen your ties to them, says Robert Emmons, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Davis.

When you do make a point to thank someone, you’re demonstrating a certain level of trust in that person, and you actually see that person in a more positive light. According to the Association for Psychological Science, this new perception encourages a more meaningful relationship between the two of you. Gratitude keeps you closer to the important people in your life.

Increase Your Happiness

Feeling dissatisfied with life? Do you wish you had more friends, a different house or more understanding parents?  Even when you can’t change your specific circumstances, gratitude can help you stay positive. 

The Clinical Psychology Review published data from 12 different studies exploring the effects of gratitude. People of varying ages completed tasks aimed at increasing gratitude levels. At the end of the studies, participants reported feeling more satisfied with several aspects of life, including school family and friends. Some participants even found they worried less.

Other data indicated that thankfulness may keep several mental disorders at bay. Regular gratitude practice improves your overall psychological well-being which automatically decreases your chances of developing depression.  Expressing thanks also may significantly lower your risk of anxiety disorder, phobias and dependence on nicotine, alcohol and drugs.

The positive psychological effects of gratitude shouldn’t surprise you. Think about the last time you expressed thanks to someone. How did it make you feel? If your answer is positive, you’re in the majority.  According to survey results reported in the Clinical Psychology Review, over 90% of American adults and teens reported feeling “extremely happy” or at least “somewhat happy” after expressing gratitude.

Why does gratitude make people happier? Robert Emmons explains that certain negative emotions can’t exist at the same time as gratitude. It directly opposes depression, envy, regret and resentment. As reported in studies conducted at the University of Kentucky, grateful people even show fewer signs of aggression and violence, which might result from some of these emotions. The more you fill your life with gratitude, the less room you will have for negative feelings. 

Improve Your Health

The benefits of gratitude for mental and emotional health are clear. But can expressions of thanks improve your physical health as well? It appears so. 

As “the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude”, Emmons has conducted studies involving more than 1000 people for more than 10 years. These people have all reported physical benefits of gratitude, including healthier blood pressure, fewer aches and pains, stronger immune systems and increased motivation to exercise.

How can merely saying thank you impact your body?

It’s possible that some of these health benefits relate directly to the lower stress levels associated with gratitude practice. Emmons notes that a grateful attitude throughout life can make you “more stress-resilient,” and it is widely known that stress directly influences physical health.

A grateful attitude offers particular defense against stress when you’re faced with traumatic circumstances. 

When Danielle, a 45-year-old mother of three, lost her husband to cancer, the stress took its toll on the family, including sickness right after the funeral. In the weeks following, as the grief settled in, there didn’t seem to be many reasons to give thanks, "But because we had given thanks as a family in the past,” says Danielle, “we made it a point to continue.” Eight months after her husband’s death, Danielle and her children were still actively grieving, but they were physically healthy and ready to move on with life. “It was partly the sense of gratitude for each other—and expressing it often—that kept us going,” she says.

Gratitude, Emmons explains, gives you a different perspective—a more positive way of looking at your experience. It enables you to view life as a whole rather than focusing on your temporary circumstances. As a result, you tend to recover faster from the physical and mental toll of stressful events. 

Grateful people might enjoy certain health benefits because they also tend to sleep better. The great American songwriter, Irving Berlin, got it right when he wrote his song titled, “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep.” Little did he know that nearly 50 years later the advice given in the song would prove to be scientifically sound. Emmons’ studies have shown that people who increase gratitude begin to sleep better and to wake up more refreshed. Why? According to the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, grateful people may sleep better because, right before falling asleep, they have fewer negative, sleep-disturbing thoughts and more positive ones—like counting their blessings.

Boost Success

What are your goals in life? Do you want to go to Harvard? Be on Broadway? Invent something? Create a computer game? Maybe you’d just be happy to finish high school or to find a decent job. 

Whatever your goals, practicing gratitude can enhance your success, says Emmons. His studies involved two groups of people, over a 10-week period. In pursuing their goals, the grateful group made 20% more progress than participants who weren’t practicing gratitude. So, although you may not go to Harvard, your gratitude may help you ace your ACT exam—or at least pass your next math test!

Emmons also cites The Path to Purpose: Helping Our Children Find Their Calling in Life. In this book, author William Damon, Professor of Education and Director of the Center on Adolescence at Stanford University, notes that gratitude relates to a sense of purpose for one’s life. Because you appreciate the opportunity to participate in the world, you want to make a contribution to it. Even if you have no idea what you should do with your life, gratitude can motivate you to discover your purpose.

Relationships. Happiness. Health. Success. You’ve got lots of reasons to express your thanks. But what if you’re running a little low on gratefulness? Are there ways to feel more grateful? Can you learn to express your thanks more effectively? Thankfully—yes! To learn how, click on the link below to read Part 3 of this series. 

Written by Beth Prassel-Sieg


Part 1:
Give Others a Boost with Gratitude
Part 3:
Gratitude Upgrade 

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A healthy outside starts from the inside. Robert Urich