The Scientific Benefits of a Daily Gratitude Practice on Happiness and Health
By: Divya Darling
January 31, 2014
With the vast number of benefits that scientific studies have revealed positively correlated to the practice of gratitude, writing in a gratitude journal daily is the equivalent of brushing your teeth: a small time investment that results in great gains for your well-being. It’s even more important, because the practice of gratitude has been linked to psychological, physical, and social benefits.
Dr. Robert Emmons, psychologist and professor at the University of California Davis, has been studying the effects of gratitude for over a decade. He is one of the world’s leading experts in the field, having contributed significantly to the body of research available. He co-directs the Greater Good Science Center (a collaboration by the Universities of California Davis and Berkeley), which allocated $5.6 million to a three-year project on Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude.
To cite some of their findings, here are some of the top research-based reasons for spending time daily to reflect upon and document what you’re most grateful for. The research suggests these benefits are available to most anyone who practices gratitude, even in the midst of adversity, including the elderly and infirm, cancer patients, and people coping with a chronic muscular disease.
- Gratitude helps you be happier. Practicing gratitude has proven to be one of the most reliable methods for increasing happiness and life satisfaction; it also enhances feelings of joy, optimism, enthusiasm, and pleasure – the emotions you love experiencing.
- Gratitude decreases anxiety and depression – the emotions you typically prefer to avoid.
- Gratitude is great for your physical health: studies suggest gratitude strengthens the immune system, reduces symptoms of illness, lowers blood pressure, and makes you less bothered by aches and pains. It also encourages you to exercise more and take better care of your body.
- Gratitude makes you more resilient. It has been found to help people recover from traumatic events, including war veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Gratitude strengthens relationships. When partners feel and express gratitude for each other, they each become more satisfied with their relationship. It also makes you feel closer and more committed to friends and romantic partners. Gratitude may also encourage a more equitable division of labor between partners.
- Gratitude promotes forgiveness—even between ex-spouses after a divorce.
- Grateful people get better quality sleep. They get more hours of sleep each night, spend less time awake before falling asleep, and feel more refreshed upon awakening. Next time you are having trouble sleeping, try counting your blessings.
- Gratitude encourages you to pay it forward. Grateful people are more helpful, altruistic, and compassionate.
- Gratitude is great for children and schools. When 10-19 year olds practice gratitude, they report greater life satisfaction and more positive emotion, and they feel more connected to their community. Studies suggest it makes students feel better about their school, as well as making teachers feel more satisfied and accomplished, less emotionally exhausted, possibly reducing teacher burnout.
The research is abundant and strongly suggestive that you can benefit from feeling more grateful in copious ways. But being grateful is not just a natural disposition; it’s absolutely a skill that can be cultivated. Like every other mental activity, the more you do it, the faster and easier it becomes for you to do it.
Keeping a gratitude journal is one of the most effective tools to use to cultivate gratefulness. Writing down one to three things you are grateful for every day is a wonderful way to reap the rewards of feeling appreciation. Knowing that you have to fill your page with something every night forces you to examine the world in a different light. This exercise, over time, trains the brain to look for the positive (the love) instead of the negative (the lack) and savor the blessings in your life. This helps counteract the brain’s negativity bias (we naturally recall negative events twice as often as positive events, thanks to our ancestors who relied upon that for survival), which can result in you remembering the past more favorably. It also leaves you feeling better about the present, and more hopeful about the future.
If you’d like a gratitude journal, you can find one here.