The title of this blog does make me feel a little like a snake-oil salesman, making impossibly grandiose promises. Surely, it couldn’t be that simple, right? Well, according to scientific research maybe it is.
So what is the magic bullet? A tablet, an injection, a form of surgery? No, it’s simply gratitude.
Really, cultivating a little gratitude can improve your wellbeing in so many ways. If someone expresses their thanks for a job well done, it makes us feel good. That process works just as well within our own minds. It’s easy to focus on the bad stuff in life, which only serves to increase dissatisfaction and unhappiness. By appreciating what we actually have we can improve our health, our relationships, and our mood (1).
Gratitude and Mood
Gratitude can reduce a whole load of negative or frankly toxic emotions. When we concentrate on all the bad stuff, feelings like envy, anger, frustration and regret, it can proliferate. By being thankful for all that is positive in our lives, we can feel better and help protect ourselves from anxiety and depression.
This is not about sticking our heads in the sand and ignoring problems. It’s about dealing with important issues but not ruminating about the things over which we have no control. Researcher Dr. Robert Emmons said:
“To say we feel grateful is not to say that everything in our lives is necessarily great. It just means we are aware of our blessings.”
Research confirms that grateful individuals are happier and more well-adjusted. Studies show that grateful people tend to be less angry, hostile and depressed. They also were shown to have greater emotional warmth, trust, gregariousness and consideration for others. (2) (3)
So, is there just a group of lucky, happy people who are born with natural traits of warmth, altruism, and gratitude? It’s not as simple as that. There may be a thankful trait but the rest of us can make a real difference by regularly practising gratitude and thinking about the aspects of our life, loves and work that make us smile(4).
Gratitude and Health
It’s not just our psychological health that can be affected by gratitude, our physical health can be improved too. In some ways that’s a no-brainer; there’s good evidence that persistent stress, depression, and insomnia can affect our bodies as well as our minds.
Stress can boost levels of the hormone cortisol. It has a vital role in raising plasma glucose levels at times of acute stress, so that the body has the energy it needs to face attacks from injury, illness or infection. This was great when we were cavemen fighting saber-toothed tigers -but less ideal in modern lives when stress can be psychological and constant.
Too much cortisol for too long can be damaging, reducing musculature and increasing abdominal fat, not an ideal result! It also suppresses levels of growth hormone and sex hormones, which can reduce libido, fertility and a feeling of well-being. It lowers glucose uptake by the cells and increases blood levels potentially predisposing us to type 2 diabetes and its effects on calcium can increase the risk of osteoporosis. So it is clear that moderating cortisol levels is important for the maintenance of our health and well-being.
And how can we do that? Well, one easy way is gratitude. Being grateful has been shown to decrease our feelings of stress, drop our cortisol levels and help us sleep more easily(5).
Gratitude and Success
What is success? Is it achieving a favorable outcome? Gaining wealth, fame or eminence or simply doing well and progressing in your career?
Research studies have shown that people who are more grateful have increased levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism, and energy. In addition, they are more likely to communicate well and help others. Sound like someone you would like to work with? By being focusing on the positive you can make better progress towards your own individual goals and improve the working environment for those around you.
If you’re feeling sad, unsuccessful or stuck in a rut then stop dwelling on your failures and make changes now. Start a journal itemizing the good things that have happened in your life, the people that are important to you and the moments you have treasured (6), or simply start the day by spending 2 minutes coming up with 5 things that you are grateful for. By rejoicing in the simple pleasures you can be happier, healthier and more successful-with no snake oil required.
Find out more:
- 7 scientifically proven benefits of gratitude that will motivate you to give thanks year round. (Forbes 2014) Amy Morin
- Gratitude and Happiness: Development of a Measure of Gratitude, and Relationships with Subjective Well-Being (Social Behaviour and Personality 2003, P C Watkins, K Woodward, T Stone, R L Kolts)
- Gratitude in intermediate affective terrain: Links of grateful moods to individual differences and daily emotional experience. (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2004., 86, 295–309.) McCullough, M. E., Tsang, J. -A., & Emmons, R. A
- Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration (Clinical Psychology Review, 2010) Alex M. Wood, Jeffrey J. Froh, Adam W.A. Geraghty
- The impact of a new emotional self-management program on stress, emotions, heart rate variability, DHEA and cortisol. (Integrative Physiological & Behavioral Science 1998, 32, 151-70) McCraty, R., Barrios-Choplin, B., Rozman, D. , Atkinson, M. & Watkins, A.