As meditation, mindfulness, and self-care continue to garner attention in the health and wellness world, there is increasing evidence that the practice of gratitude can have profound impacts on a person’s emotional and physical health. Being grateful is no longer just a life lesson your parents instill in you as good manners. Gratitude can help you live a healthier, happier, and longer life.
What is Gratitude?
According to Merriam-Webster, the essential meaning of gratitude is a feeling of appreciation or thanks. It is a simplified definition of a feeling and sense that many of us experience or try to experience as often as possible. Benedictine monk, Br. David Steindl-Rast has suggested that two qualities should be in our basic definition of gratitude. The first quality is appreciation. You understand that something is valuable to you. This understanding and recognition do not have anything to do with its monetary value. The second quality is that gratitude is gratis. It is something freely given to you.
Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, is one of the world’s leading scientific experts on gratitude and sees gratitude similarly but in a bit more detail. He believes that gratitude has two key components. The first being that it is an affirmation of goodness. We affirm good things in the world exist and that we have received gifts and benefits. The second aspect of gratitude is recognizing that the source of this goodness is outside of ourselves. It is the acknowledgment that others gave us many gifts to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.
In What Ways Does Gratitude Enrich Our Health?
It may seem like just some wonderful thinking, but there is actual science behind gratitude and its effects on our health. A leading researcher at Mayo Clinic has even pioneered a Global Center for Resiliency and Wellbeing. Here entire courses have been developed and used by companies like Kohl’s and Pepsi to foster healthier, happier employees. Dr. Amit Sood’s research on gratitude has shown that practicing gratitude can:
- Improve sleep.
- Boost immunity.
- Decrease the risk of disease.
- Increase your happiness.
His studies have completed over 30 clinical trials, and the approach he believes in implementing significantly improves stress, burnout, and anxiety. Gratitude, fortunately, can be something people in all walks of life can partake in. Professionals, teachers and students, patients and caregivers, and those in healthcare can all benefit from practicing gratitude
How Can You Practice Gratitude?
Thankfully, practicing gratitude and receiving its benefits for your well-being is not only easy, in most cases, it is also absolutely free. An article from the Harvard School of Medicine offers a few easy ways to incorporate gratitude into your daily life. To cultivate gratitude, you can:
Thank someone mentally. You can simply think of something that someone has done for you and thank the universe, and them, for their gifts to you. Even better? Give them a call when you get a free moment or send them a text. You would be surprised at the positivity you can spread through a simple thank you.
Meditate. Mindfulness meditation focuses on the present moment without judgment. You can focus on a word or phrase, a sound, or a feeling. Sometimes being outdoors will aid in your meditation. You can focus on a word, the sound of the breeze and trees rustling, and the warmth of the sun.
Keep a gratitude journal. Pick a time of day that works best for you, and make it a habit to write down 5-10 things you are grateful for each day. The more specific, the better. You do not have to make them complicated. They can be as simple as being grateful for the friendly barista at Starbucks and the perfect latte she made you. Or be grateful for the ability you had to walk up the stairs at work today. Grateful thoughts are like a positivity snowball. Once you have one, more will follow.
Write a thank-you note. In a world of digital communication, there is still a place for the written word. Taking the time to write and send a thank you note will foster gratitude in your mind and heart. Even better, it will make someone smile and feel appreciated when they open your handwritten note. A great habit is sending one thank you note a month. These can be on plain paper, or you can buy a box of blank cards and a book of stamps, so you always have one on hand.
Pray. If you are religious, prayer time is a perfect time to say thanks for things you are grateful for in life.
No matter how you decide to practice gratitude, it is bound to have a positive effect on your mental and physical well-being. Science continues to study the ways it will help us live healthier and happier lives. Now that you have learned a bit more about gratitude and ways to cultivate it, it is time to start practicing!