"It is not happiness that brings us gratitude. It is gratitude that brings us happiness."
"Gratitude makes sense of the past, brings peace for the present, and creates a vision for the future."
A 2015 article in the popular journal Scientific American reported that, out of 24 strengths, including such powerhouses as love, hope, kindness, and creativity, the single best predictor of good relationships and emotional well-being was gratitude.
The Benefits of Cultivating Gratitude
for Stress Relief and Well-Being
Have you ever noticed that some people seem to be able to maintain a relatively positive attitude regardless of what’s happening around them? Like everyone, they can appreciate the good times, but they also seem to be able to focus on the positive in the face of some pretty negative events. They see the good in difficult people, they see the opportunity in a challenging situation, and they appreciate what they have, even in the face of loss. Would you like to increase your ability to maintain a positive attitude in your life, even in the face of significant stress?
Fortunately, a positive attitude can be cultivated, with a little practice. Although we are born with specific temperamental tendencies, the brain is a muscle, and you can strengthen your mind’s natural tendency toward optimism if you work at it. And also, fortunately, working on building your "gratitude muscle" can be enjoyable in itself. But the benefits you gain would make it worth the effort even if it was a dull, difficult task.
While several factors go into emotional resilience and optimism, studies show that cultivating a sense of gratitude can help you maintain a more positive mood in daily life and contribute to the greater emotional well-being and bring social benefits as well. Cultivating gratitude is one of the simpler routes to a greater sense of emotional well-being, higher overall life satisfaction, and a greater sense of happiness in life. People with a greater level of gratitude tend to have stronger relationships in that they appreciate their loved ones more, and their loved ones, feeling that appreciation, tend to do more to earn it. And because those who are happier, sleep better, and enjoy healthy relationships tend to be healthier, grateful people tend to be healthier people.
Fortunately, gratitude can be cultivated, and this can be accomplished in several ways. For the next few weeks, try some of the following exercises, and you should notice a significant increase in your feelings of gratitude -— you will likely find yourself noticing more positive things in your life, dwelling less on negative or stressful events and feelings of ‘lack,’ and having a greater sense of appreciation for the people and things in your life.
Studies show that the simple act of smiling can actually change the way you feel, regardless of why you are smiling. Add to this the fact that many people instinctively smile back when they see a genuine smile on someone else’s face, and you gain double the benefits—you feel better yourself, and you are surrounded by a world of smiling, happy people. A smile can ease a difficult social interaction in a matter of seconds, reducing the amount of stress you may feel in an otherwise sticky social situation.
Make Gentle Reminders
When you notice yourself grumbling about a negative event or stressor in your life, try to think of 4 or 5 related things for which you are grateful. For example, when feeling stressed at work, try to think about several things that you like about your job. You can do the same with relationship stress, financial stress, or other daily hassles. The more you gently remind yourself of the positives, the more easily a shift toward gratitude can occur.
Be Careful With Comparisons
Many people cause themselves unnecessary stress by making comparisons. More specifically, they cause themselves stress by making the wrong comparisons. They compare themselves only to those who have more, do more, or are in some way closer to their ideals, and allow themselves to feel inferior instead of inspired. In cultivating gratitude, you have one of two options if you find yourself making such comparisons: You can either choose to compare yourself to people who have less than you (which reminds you how truly rich and lucky you are), or you can feel gratitude for having people in your life who can inspire you. Either road can lead away from stress and envy, and closer to feelings of gratitude. Here are some more strategies for minimizing the stress of social comparison on social media.
Give a Hug And a "Thank You"
Simply expressing gratitude with a quick word or an embrace can help you to feel more connected with others, and help them to feel more connected to you. These quick experiences can translate into positive feelings on both sides, as well as stronger relationships and all of the benefits that come with them.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
One of the best ways to cultivate gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal. Not only are you combining the benefits of journaling with the active adoption of a more positive mindset, you are left with a nice catalog of happy memories and a long list of things in your life for which you are grateful. (This can be wonderful to read during times when it’s more difficult to remember what these things are.)
Because habits are usually formed within two or three weeks, you will have to actively focus on maintaining gratitude less and less as you go, and the habit of a more positive (and less stress-inducing) attitude will be more automatic. And greater feelings of emotional well-being can be yours.
Seven Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude
1. Gratitude improves physical health. Grateful people have fewer aches and pains and feel healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences. In addition, grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health. They exercise more and are attend regular check-ups, which is likely to contribute to further longevity.
2. Gratitude improves psychological health. Gratitude has the capacity to reduce the negative effects of toxic emotions such as resentment and frustration. Robert Emmons, a prominent gratitude researcher, has conducted several studies on the relationship between gratitude and well-being. His research provides evidence that gratitude can increase happiness and reduce depression.
3. Gratitude opens the door to more relationships. Saying “thank you” and showing appreciation can help you win new friends, according to a 2014 study published in Emotion. The study found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship. In short, acknowledging other people’s contributions can lead to new opportunities.
4. Gratitude promotes empathy and reduces aggression. Grateful people are more likely to behave in a friendly manner, even when others are less kindly to them, according to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky. Study participants who scored higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.
5. Grateful people sleep better. Practicing gratitude exercises can improve sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Spend just 15 minutes writing down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you may sleep better and longer.
6. Gratitude is good for self-esteem. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased athletes’ self-esteem, an essential component to optimal performance. Other studies have shown that gratitude reduces social comparisons. Rather than becoming resentful toward people who have more money or better jobs—a major factor in reduced self-esteem—grateful people are able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments.
7. Gratitude improves mental strength. Multiple studies have shown that gratitude can be a powerful tool for reducing stress and can help to overcome the effects of trauma. A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. Recognizing all that you have to be thankful for —even during the worst times—fosters resilience.
Elizabeth Scott, MS, The Benefits of Cultivating Gratitude for Stress Relief, 2018. Elizabeth Scott is wellness coach specializing in stress management and quality of life issues. She is a diplomate at the American Institute of Stress. Author of 8 Keys to Stress Management, part of W.W. Norton's popular 8 Keys to Mental Health Series,
Amy Morin, 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude, Psychology Today, April, 2015. Amy Morin is a psychotherapist and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, a bestselling book that is being translated into more than 20 languages.