Gratitude may be defined as an appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful for oneself. The act of practicing gratitude is by no means a new idea, but it has gained significant attention in recent years. New research has found that practicing gratitude has significant positive effects on our physical and mental wellbeing, helps you sleep at night, and even bolsters your immune system. An increasing body of research shows that practicing gratitude and reflecting on positive aspects of our lives regularly may increase our life satisfaction and our quality of life.
A recent experimental study sought to determine the effects of gratitude practice on self-reported loneliness and health in older individuals. Researchers determined that regular practice of gratitude led to a decrease in perceived loneliness in aging individuals as well as an increase in positive health reports. On days when individuals reported high levels of gratitude, they also reported a greater sense of well being and fewer physical health symptoms. Additionally, it has been found that for aging adults, reflecting on positive past life events and expressing gratitude around those events may also increase life satisfaction and well being.
Expressions of gratitude through activities such as gratitude meditation have been found to have direct impacts on the function of our brain. A recent study found that the part of the brain called the amygdala–which is thought to be the control center for emotional processing and attention–is greatly affected by a regular meditation practice. After an 8-week meditation practice, meditation practitioners exhibited a lower activation of their amygdala and a faster return to baseline activation after viewing phrases of negative self-belief and negative emotional stimuli while in a non-meditative state. In short, implementing a regular gratitude meditation practice can help you better manage negative emotions and increase our levels of self-belief and acceptance.
The Center for Disease Control calls practicing gratitude the best kept secret for reducing stress. Here are some effective ways to implement a gratitude practice in your life:
- Start a gratitude journal! The Greater Good Science Center suggests that to get going, you should set aside at least 15 minutes a day, three days a week, for two weeks to your journal practice. In this time, record at least five things you feel grateful for–and be specific. Focussing on the details and personal aspects about what you are grateful for will strengthen this practice.
- Research shows that mindfulness meditation is a powerful tool to improve sleep quality, reduce systemic inflammation, and manage stress. Starting a meditation practice of only 10 minutes a day is a great way to start. The Greater Good Science Center provides a free mindfulness meditation here, and there are many free or low cost Apps that provide guided meditations. Loving-Kindness meditations are another kind of meditation that may help you express gratitude for yourself and others. The Greater Good Science Center provides a free Loving-Kindness meditation here.
Expressing gratitude to others can benefit yourself and those around you. Research shows expressions of gratitude are key for maintaining healthy relationships. You can express gratitude to others through words or actions. Try telling someone that you’re grateful for them or certain things they do. You can also express gratitude to others by asking others how they feel and listening, writing a letter to them expressing gratitude, or even by offering a gift of gratitude. This doesn’t have to be a grand or expensive gesture – but even a small token of gratitude can be meaningful to others.
Expressing gratitude and performing regular gratitude practices can be deeply impactful for your overall well being. Practicing gratitude can improve quality of life by helping you to manage stress, improve sleep, and overall well being by focusing on the positive aspects of your life. Healthcare providers can help their patients find gratitude by suggesting gratitude-based practices to implement in their daily lives or guiding them through gratitude meditations. Gratitude practices can be a low time-commitment and easy way to improve quality of life for yourself and for others.
SELECTED SUPPORTING RESEARCH
- (July, 2021) The prospective effects of self-compassion on depressive symptoms, anxiety, and stress: A study in inflammatory bowel disease. Journal of Psychosomatic Research.
- (Dec, 2019) Dispositional Mindfulness in Irritable Bowel Syndrome: the Mediating Role of Symptom Interference and Self-Compassion. Mindfulness.
- (April, 2019) Healthy Lifestyle Through Home Gardening: The Art of Sharing. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.
- (July, 2017) A pilot randomized study of gratitude journaling intervention on HRV and inflammatory biomarkers in Stage B heart failure patients. Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine.