Merriam-Webster defines gratitude as a feeling of appreciation or thanks. From a young age, we are taught to mind our manners, say thank you, and appreciate all the things that we have in our life.

On a basic level, gratitude should be second-nature. The truth is, being grateful has far-reaching effects emotionally and physically. The following addresses why you should be thankful and how expressing gratitude can actually make you healthier.

What is Gratitude?

While saying thank you is a nice gesture, being grateful goes one step further. Gratitude has long been a virtue taught by philosophers and religious leaders, that can actually increase a person’s overall health and well-being.

Gratitude can simply be defined as appreciation or thanks, but it is also a recognition of increments of unearned value in a person’s life. This means having an appreciation for the things in life that come our way, without us actively working for them.

The Benefits of Gratitude

By being grateful, people can experience a wide range of positive outcomes including both physical and mental benefits.

Physical Benefits

  • Overall health: Those people who incorporate gratitude into their everyday lives, as opposed to only being temporarily grateful, reap far greater health benefits. Grateful people tend to take better care of themselves including exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, and getting regular physical examinations. Grateful people also experience fewer aches and pains according to a study published in Personality and Individual Differences.
  • Relieves stress: Chronic stress is known to cause a slew of health-related problems including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and contraction of the flu. People who approach each day with a thankful heart are better equipped to handle life’s daily problems, especially stress.
  • Boosts the immune system:¬†In general, grateful people are also optimistic people. In fact, there is strong correlation between optimism and an overall healthy immune system. People who are more optimistic tend to have higher blood cell counts, which fight off infection and disease. People who maintain a positive mindset also tend to have more successful outcomes from surgery.
  • Sleep better: A 2011 study published in Applied Psychology¬†addresses how keeping a gratitude journal can actually help people sleep better. By writing down some grateful sentiments before bed, it is possible to actually sleep longer and better.

Mental Benefits

  • Reduces aggression: By having a grateful heart, people are less likely to react poorly to people even when given negative feedback. Grateful people tend to be more empathetic and sensitive to other peoples’ needs.
  • Increases self-esteem: Many people may have a low self-esteem due to comparing their social standing with others. This may include being jealous of people who have more money or possess better jobs. People who are grateful, are able to better appreciate the things that they do have, rather than being disappointed in the things that they do not have.
  • Gratitude helps you cope with loss: During and after a major tragedy or loss, people who exercise the virtue of gratitude tend to be more resilient. Being grateful reminds these people that despite their tremendous loss, there is still much to be thankful for. This kind of mental strength that can help people overcome even the most desperate of situations. According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, gratitude was a key factor in resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11th.

How to Incorporate Gratitude into Daily Life

Being grateful is a key component to overall physical and mental health. In order to cultivate these feelings of gratitude in your own life, consider incorporating some of the following things into your daily routine:

  • As mentioned under the section on sleep, consider keeping a gratitude journal. You can jot down ideas before bed about things you are grateful for that happened that day. You can also carry a journal with you, and write down things throughout the day you should be grateful for. This can help you combat the things that stress you out on a daily basis, with pleasant things you are thankful for in your life.
  • Post a list of things in your life that you may take for granted. This could include having access to clean water, having a roof over your head, or being able to have electricity in your home. Whatever it is that you may take for granted, put it on the list, and post the list in an obvious place, such as on the refrigerator. Remind yourself to look at this list daily to cultivate feelings of gratitude, and to acknowledge that despite the stress of life, you have much to be thankful for.
  • Start looking at challenging interactions as an opportunity to act with patience and empathy. Although you may deal with difficult people at your job, remind yourself that all people are fighting battles like you. Remember your list of what you are grateful for, and acknowledge that this difficult person may lack one of the things you are grateful for. This will help you develop your people skills, but also increase your level of gratitude.

Being grateful is so much more than just saying thank you. Cultivating gratitude in your daily life has wonderful mental and physical health benefits. The next time you are stressed, just remember why it is so important to be thankful.

Sources:

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gratitude

http://www.webmd.com/women/features/gratitute-health-boost#1

http://www.journals.elsevier.com/personality-and-individual-differences/

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1758-0854

http://www.livescience.com/8158-optimism-boosts-immune-system.html

http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/10-fixable-stress-related-health-problems

http://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2014/11/23/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-of-gratitude-that-will-motivate-you-to-give-thanks-year-round/#63956ca96800

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4256993/

http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/tips_for_keeping_a_gratitude_journal