As we draw closer to Thanksgiving many of us will be encouraged to reflect on the things for which we are thankful. Although it’s great to count your blessings at the Thanksgiving table, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to read how incredibly beneficial having a thankful attitude can affect your life.
In fact, Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, head of the division of biologic psychology at Duke University Medical Center, said “If [thankfulness] were a drug, it would be the world’s best-selling product with a health maintenance indication for every major organ system.” Thankfulness has tremendous advantages that not only affect us biologically, but enhances us psychologically, extrinsically at our work place, in our marriages and our friendships too. Here are 8 major benefits to having an “attitude of gratitude” that can change your life throughout the year:
1. More Resilient. Unfortunately in this life we all go through trials but being thankful in the midst of the pain has a way of helping us bounce back. A study published in 2003, from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology discovered that gratitude was a major factor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. Furthermore, a Behavior Research and Therapy study published in 2006, found lower levels of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Vietnam War Veterans that spent a great deal of time reflecting for what they’re thankful. If we can be grateful even in the worse times of our lives, we will find ourselves more resilient and strong enough to overcome any trauma.
2. Improves Sleep. According to a study published in 2011 by Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep. It’s amazing to think spending merely 15 minutes a day jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed will help us sleep better and longer! In times past, I’ve been guilty of rehearsing events in my day or over-analyzing at night. Unfortunately, stress reduces our sleep quality, it keeps us awake or it can cut our sleep short. Research shows that when we are thankful, the parasympathetic (calming part of the nervous system) is triggered. In other words, if we set our my minds on things we’re grateful for it induces a relaxation response and it will improve our sleep.
3. Deeper & Healthy Relationships. When we are ungrateful, we find ourselves irritable. We begin to nag at our spouses, we have short fuses with our children and we are less likely to go out with friends. Research has shown gratefulness decreases cortisol (stress) levels and increases levels of oxytocin–the bonding hormone involved in relationships that make us feel good. Therefore, grateful individuals are more likely to be social and pleasant company for others. In fact, people are less likely to retaliate against others when they’re appreciative; even when given negative feedback there’s a decreased desire to take revenge. A 2012 study by the University of Kentucky discovered thankful people are far more sensitive and empathetic toward others. Evidently, thankfulness can play a big role in our relationships, including how we handle conflict.
In addition to diminishing levels of stress, gratitude can take our peer-acquaintances to a deeper level in relationship. A thankful person is more likely to draw the company of friends by the warm feeling that is associated with one who has a thankful heart. A simple “thank you” to a stranger, co-worker and friend can go a long way!
4. Goal Achievement. A study published in 2014 in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychologyfound that gratitude increased athlete’s self-esteem, which leads to their optimal performance. When we are thankful we are less likely to underestimate our potential, compare ourselves to others and be envious of others’ gains. We are more likely to focus on our own achievements and be inspired to reach our dreams. Again, those that keep a gratitude journal have been reported to experience more progress and are more likely to achieve their goals.
Interestingly, a thankful attitude can greatly help with financial goals. David DeSteno, psychology professor at Northeastern University, referenced people who practice thankfulness on a regular basis are better able to resist the lure of short-term financial gratification. Apparently the way our brains process gratitude enables us to have a better outlook of our future and provides the discipline to save money and stop impulse spending. DeSteno said, “On average, we increased people’s financial patience by about 12 percent. That doesn’t sound like much, but imagine if you could increase people’s savings by that much.” Who’s ready to save money? Let’s start by being thankful!
5. Increases Happiness. A leading gratitude researcher, Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., has conducted several studies on the connection between gratitude and well-being. Over the past ten years, his studies have shown how practicing gratitude can fight against depression by increasing levels of happiness by 25%. We all have a so-called default setting when it comes to our body weight; evidently it’s the same with happiness. No matter what kind of events take place in the day that cause our happiness to rise or fall, we tend to return to our “happiness set-point”. However, when we are thankful and practice gratitude it rises our “happiness set-point”. It ultimately increases our level of happiness regardless of any external circumstance. Dr. Emmons further shares “writing a letter of gratitude reduced feelings of hopelessness in 88 percent of suicidal patients and increased levels of optimism in 94 percent of them.”
6. Stronger Immune System. Not surprisingly, grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health thus they are more likely to exercise and attend regular check-ups both attributing to a healthier body. Moreover, gratitude has a direct link with the number of blood cells that protect the immune system. Lisa Aspinwall, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Utah, says, “There are some very interesting studies linking optimism to better immune function.” Since grateful people tend to be more optimistic, they maintain a higher number of blood cells. Even in individuals with compromised health, gratitude improves outcomes when they maintain an attitude of optimism (thankfulness). It’s also been reported in a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences people experience fewer aches and pains when they’re thankful.
7. Healthier Heart. In the American Journal of Cardiology, a 1995 study showed that changes in heart rate variability and blood pressure are linked with appreciation and positive emotions. From this study, we can assume gratitude can be helpful with the treatment of high blood pressure and can possibly decrease the number of sudden deaths in patients with congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease. Another study from the University of California San Diego’s School of Medicine found that people who were more grateful actually had less inflammation and healthier heart rhythms.
8. Longevity. At the University College London a study found elderly people who were happy and content with their lives lived up to 20-35 percent longer than their not-so-happy counterparts. Gratefulness helps us recall those special, happy moments, especially when we take the time to journal, thus it increases our lifespan according to the research.
Having an attitude of gratitude truly pays off! Honestly there are so many other benefits to being thankful, I just did not have the time to write them all! It’s food for the soul and it feeds happiness to our hearts. So the next time you’re presented with a problem, instead of dwelling on the negative, look at the positive. Don’t mull over your problems, it doesn’t help you reach a solution faster. In fact, the negativity clouds our judgement and it attracts other pessimistic individuals. Beware of ungratefulness-it can really put you in a rut! No matter the situation we can ALWAYS find something to be grateful for.
Jump start your biological, psychological and social well-being today by creating a list of the things you are thankful for over this Holiday weekend. It will set you up for a brighter New Year!
Let me end with saying, I’m so very thankful for all of you and how God has allowed our paths to cross. I regularly pray for my readers. This Holiday season I’m praying that you will experience the love, peace and comfort of God. May you see His blessing upon you and your family as we draw near to 2017.
From my family to yours…have a Happy Thanksgiving!