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What are you thankful for?
If the answer rolls right off your tongue, science tells us you could be in pretty decent shape on several levels.
As leading life and business guru Tony Robbins puts it:
“Gratitude is the antidote to the things that mess us up. You can’t be angry and grateful simultaneously. You can’t be fearful and grateful simultaneously.”
And as leadership expert Robin Sharma says:
“Gratitude is the antidote to fear.”
According to several studies, researchers, and experts on living healthy, happy lives, gratitude should go well beyond the annual American turkey day celebration.
Gratitude is the quality of being thankful. It’s a readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
Basically, you can rewire your brain and your health by practicing mindfulness activities like gratitude. Here are four major benefits and reasons why you should start practicing gratitude regularly, plus how you can easily incorporate the habit into your life today.
#1. It’s good for your well-being
According to one study, people who are grateful are more agreeable and open, and less neurotic.
And who wants to feel neurotic?
Not only that, but it decreases depression and improves your life satisfaction as noted by the same study.
Another health benefit: practicing gratitude reduces cortisol by 23%, which means less stress and better health overall.
What does your cortisol hormone do to your body?
It plays a vital role in your body’s stress response.
With too much of this hormone released, it raises your blood pressure and sugar levels, which over time can become a chronic problem that leads to ailments like hypertension, carb cravings, and fat deposits on your face, neck, and belly (eek).
#2. It strengthens your relationships
One of the five key ingredients for an ideal retirement lifestyle is your relationships and involvement in your community, whether your family, friends, neighbors, or even strangers.
And there are so many science-backed reasons why being social is good for your health. To name a few, being social improves your:
- Mental health
- Emotional health
- Physical health
- Cognitive health
As you can see, it’s an all-around super important category.
By practicing gratitude, you can amplify and strengthen your relationships in your life – doesn’t matter how shallow or deep. Here’s the research to back it up. Gratitude increases your satisfaction with both your relationships and your life:
#3. It improves your physical health
One study analyzed results of close to 185 patients found that people who have gratitude are in a better mood, have better heart health, and sleep better. Lead author and professor of family medicine at UC San Diego said:
“We found that more gratitude in these patients was associated with better mood, better sleep, less fatigue and lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers related to cardiac health.”
Gratitude has a positive impact on your sleep quality, mood, fatigue level and cardiac health:
#4. It helps you sleep and exercise
We touched upon sleep quality in the last benefit, but getting a good night’s rest is so important (especially as you mature), I wanted to call out the benefit in its own category.
Practicing gratitude improves your sleep and increases your vitality and desire to exercise.
In a study of over 400 participants, researchers out of Manchester, UK found a strong correlation between gratitude and sleep quality. The research team found that:
“Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions.”
Having trouble sleeping at night? You may find this article about the importance of sleep + 11 sleep tips helpful in catching your z’s.
And when it comes to having the energy to exercise, gratitude helps with that, too.
In an 11-week study of 96 Americans, the people who kept a weekly gratitude journal exercised 40 minutes more per week than the control group.
And how effective is gratitude journaling? That brings us to our next topic.
How can you easily practice gratitude each day?
One of the simplest things you can do is keep a gratitude journal.
Gratitude journaling is an effective way to pick up on this habit daily. Plus, the act of writing in a journal can fit seamlessly into your current lifestyle. You just need to be disciplined about it and keep it up.
And gratitude journaling specifically, has its positive health impacts. A 2016 pilot study found that patients who kept a gratitude journal for two months showed reduced markers of inflammation as well as increased heart rate variability (HRV).
(HRV is when the time between your heartbeat intervals vary. It’s considered a key indicator of your health because heart failure is usually characterized by a loss of HRV as the disease progresses.)
Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude and renowned author, recommends following these tips while gratitude journaling:
- Don’t just go through the motions – Research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and colleagues tell us that journaling is more effective with the right motivation. Make the conscious decision to do it for the purpose of becoming happier and more grateful.
- Go for depth over breadth – Go deep into the details of something that you’re grateful for, instead of just listing off some typical shallow items. It’ll carry more weight if you elaborate on why you’re so grateful.
- Focus on people – Appreciating people vs. things that you’re grateful for can have more of an impact on your overall well-being. Tip: write thank you letters and send them to people you’re grateful for.
- Try subtraction, not just addition – In addition to counting your blessings, try imaging what your life would be like if you were missing certain people or things.
- Savor surprises in your life – Write journal entries about life’s surprising and unexpected joys, which elicit a stronger level of gratitude.
While you don’t necessarily need to keep up with your journal every day, consistently writing a journal entry on a weekly basis can vastly improve your overall health. Shoot for 3-5 times per week and consciously and actively focus on your goal of being happier.
Over to you
Gratitude is your path to a happier, healthier life and may prove to be well worth the daily effort, whether in written, thought, or vocal form.
What can you do today to commit to practicing gratitude regularly?
Your lifelong satisfaction and health could very well depend on it.
THANK YOU for reading this article, and for being proactive in taking care of your future self. Simply by reading and implementing healthy habits into your daily life, you’re helping to shift our culture to be better.
It’s truly my mission to help our seniors live a more purposeful retirement lifestyle as a way to be active, healthy, and engaged — and to stave off scary stats on the rise like Alzheimer’s, loneliness, depression and nursing home occupancy.
Want more purpose in your retirement life? Check out this Free Workshop to learn three secrets if you haven’t already.