Updated: Aug 21, 2019
Did you know gratitude is one of the most powerful tools in creating a happier life?
Did you know it can give you better relationships, a career boost, and better physical and emotional health too?
Whether you're skeptical and/or unfamiliar with gratitude's benefits, I hope you come away from this article with a different perspective.
I hope it will completely change the way you look at your life.
Let's get into it.
What is gratitude?
Gratitude: a strong feeling of thankfulness or appreciation for the goodness in one's life.
Gratitude is also recognizing that the sources of this goodness lie at least partially outside of yourself
Why do you need it?
1. Gratitude makes you happier.
By practicing gratitude you will start to realize there are many things that you already have that make you happy.
Maybe you can feel grateful for a sunny day, good friends, the memories from a fun vacation, your family, or life itself.
Start taking responsibility for the fact that happiness is something you can create internally at any time. Don't let chance and the circumstances of your life determine your happiness.
Gratitude ultimately helps us savor and participate in life more. The more you value something, the more you give to it and the more you get out of it.
Quick side note. If you're in an especially difficult situation or feeling depressed, seeking professional help and support of loved ones is likely the best choice.
However, studies have shown that people facing depression, deaths of loved ones, terminal illness, incarceration, and other extreme life events have still benefited greatly from practicing gratitude.
Let's keep considering how gratitude can help.
2. Gratitude trains your mind
A huge part of what you experience is directed by what you actively focus on.
When you practice gratitude you are training your mind to turn its focus to the good things in life.
Over time you will improve the control of your focus and begin to notice more good things throughout your day.
It's a simple concept but we often forget - the more you focus on and look for something, the more you will find it.
For example, if tomorrow you choose to focus and count every red car you see while you're driving home, you will be guaranteed to find a lot more red cars than you ever had on your drive before.
Did more red cars show up that day than any other? Probably not. Most likely they were always there and you just didn't notice them before.
It's the same thing with the good things in your life.
I implore you - be extremely watchful of what you focus on! What you focus on drives your experience and that experience is your life.
3. Gratitude improves your relationships
Did you know the quality of our relationships is one of the biggest factors affecting the quality of our lives?
Maybe this is obvious to you, but why not use a little science to back it up.
A Harvard study that started in 1938 followed hundreds of people for decades to examine what made the biggest impact on living a healthy and happy life.
“When we gathered together everything we knew about them at age 50, it wasn’t their middle-age cholesterol levels that predicted how they were going to grow old,” said Waldinger in his popular TED Talk. “It was how satisfied they were in their relationships. The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.”
Good relationships prolong the years of good mental and physical health, and bring us some of life's most precious and intense joys.
Relationships are also the place where we can begin to do the most good for others.
Studies have shown that people that keep gratitude journals become more compassionate, helpful, and kind to those around them.
When you take a moment to recognize the goodness that someone brings into your life (and maybe even tell them about it), you strengthen your bond.
Not only will you feel happier with your relationship but you are also more likely to treat the other person more kindly. They in turn are more likely to treat you kindly.
On a grander scale, gratitude reminds us that as humans we are all part of one huge interconnected system and depend highly on one another. This is a nice thing to be reminded of. You belong.
4. Gratitude reduces painful emotions
Gratitude blocks painful emotions. It's impossible to feel grateful and angry at the same time.
Our brains are naturally very good at spotting the negatives in life. We need to be able to spot threats. It's how we survive.
Since our brains have a bias towards negativity, it's pretty easy to experience a lot of painful emotions like worry, sadness, fear, and anger.
Man, staying alive is stressful!
Of course these painful emotions are supposed to direct us towards life sustaining actions. Pain can be critical in recognizing problems and making changes.
Our goal is not to eradicate helpful, painful emotions but to create a life that increases the level of joy you personally feel.
Gratitude can help you experience more joyful emotions and over time reduce your brain's natural tendency to focus on things that cause painful emotions.
5. Gratitude makes you resilient
Having a strong foundation of gratitude can help put your life into perspective and give you relief from your current difficult situation.
Studies have shown that people that practice gratitude are more resistant to stress.
Gratitude can help remind us that there are still many things in life to be happy about.
People faced with extremely painful circumstances have even looked back at their challenges and felt gratitude for what the challenge taught them or how it strengthened them.
6. Gratitude improves your physical health
Gratitude can help you:
Lower blood pressure
Stress can cause blood vessels to constrict and blood pressure to rise. Gratitude can directly combat these effects.
Improve immune function
Practicing gratitude can increase your body's levels of immunoglobulin A, an antibody that defends against viruses.
Gratitude activates our parasympathetic nervous system (which has the opposite effect of the stress inducing fight or flight sympathetic nervous system) and helps us relax, digest our food better, and ultimately get a good night's sleep.
Practicing gratitude releases the feel good neurotransmitter dopamine, which helps us feel happier and more energized.
Reduce physical pain
Studies have also shown that people practicing gratitude have experienced a 23% drop of painful effects of stress like headaches and muscle aches.<