Gratitude is a Powerful Force: 5 Amazing Ways It Can Change Your Life

By Linda K. Laffey, MFT

In 2003, researchers set out to learn more about gratitude. They wanted to know what impact it has on those who practice it. The subjects were three groups of young adults. One group was tasked with daily gratitude journaling. The researchers gave different assignments to the two other groups. Some young adults journaled about anything that annoyed them. The others focused on daily lists of ways in which others were worse off than they were.

Gratitude is a two-step process

The results highlighted the difference between feeling fortunate and feeling grateful. Those in the gratitude journaling group displayed far greater increases in:

  • Enthusiasm
  • Attention
  • Determination
  • Energy

Also, we can become aware that we’re better off than others. But this is not the same as expressing gratitude. That requires a second, active step:

  1. We look around and recognize how fortunate we are.
  2. We stop, appreciate the comparison, and feel grateful for it.

To experience the positive impacts of gratitude, we must take that second step. Feeling grateful is very good for our health.  However, we must never forget that gratitude is an action.  It’s a form of renewable energy.  In other words, we must actively practice gratitude on a daily (even hourly) basis!

A few ways to practice gratitude more often:

  • Daily journaling
  • Write letters, e-mails, or social media posts
  • Communicate gratitude to those you encounter at stores, etc.
  • Say “thank you” more often and mean it more each time!

5 Amazing Ways Gratitude Can Change Your Life

1. Better and More Relationships

Practicing gratitude often manifests in what we call “good manners.” This is good news for budding friendships.  A 2014 study found that simply saying “thank you” to a new acquaintance increased the likelihood of creating an ongoing relationship.  In existing relationships, gratefulness is like glue. Let your partner or friends know how much you appreciate them.  Tell them: “Thank you for being my friend” and/or “Thank you for loving me.”

2. Better Physical Health

We know that gratitude travels hand-in-hand with optimism. Optimism boosts the immune system.  A study of stressed-out first-year law students highlighted these connections.  The students were surveyed, then divided into optimistic or pessimistic groups.  The optimists maintained a higher number of immune-boosting blood cells. They may have slept better, too.  In a 2011 study, participants took a few minutes to write down sentiments of gratitude before bed.  Afterwards, they experienced higher quality sleep.

3. Better Mental Health

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health studied brain activity during moments of gratitude.  They found the more activity in the hypothalamus, the more grateful the person.  Why does this matter?  Because the hypothalamus matters.  It plays a major role in fundamental body activities.  It impacts sleeping and eating habits, as well as stress and metabolism levels.  If gratitude makes the hypothalamus happy, it makes your entire brain happy.

4. Better Emotional Health

Those who practice and express gratitude often experience increases in:

  • Self-esteem
  • Empathy
  • The ability to appreciate others’ accomplishments
  • The ability to overcome trauma

And decreases in:

  • Frustration
  • Envy
  • Resentment
  • Regret
  • Aggression

5. A More Mindful Life

Gratitude requires focus and awareness. It brings us to and keeps us in the present. Feeling grateful in the here and now is a form of mindfulness. To live a more mindful life is to experience it fully.  You needn’t replay the past or dread the future.  Gratitude grounds us in the present.

If you are looking for ways to bring more gratitude into your life, along with its many benefits, I would like to help. Please contact me via phone or email so we can discuss how we might work together to achieve your therapeutic goals as quickly and effectively as possible.

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