It’s that time of year again when we count our blessings and give thanks for the love and support of family and friends. Interestingly, new research shows that counting your blessings isn’t just an act we should follow around Thanksgiving dinner– it’s actually good for your health!
There is scientific evidence that being thankful for what you have produces health benefits. One now-famous study done by Robert Emmons and his colleagues at the University of California at Davis found that those who practice grateful thinking "reap emotional, physical and interpersonal benefits." Studies suggest that gratitude decreases stress and anxiety by activating the areas in the brain that release the ‘feel good’ hormones serotonin and dopamine.
And the more you think about all the good things in your life, the better you feel. Sonja Lyubomirsky, an experimental psychologist at UC Riverside, found that people who wrote down five things that they were grateful for three times a week were happier than those who did it only once a week.
It’s also apparent that it’s not just your mental health that improves when you count your blessings. It’s your physical body, too. Research has also shown that gratitude reduces anxiety and stress thereby improving cardiac health, elevating mood and strengthening our immune systems. Researchers at the universities of Utah and Kentucky observed that stressed-out law students who characterized themselves as optimistic had more disease-fighting cells in their bodies.
Here’s some suggested easy ways you can practice gratitude to realize health benefits of your own:
Keep a Daily Gratitude Journal
This is probably the most effective strategy for increasing your level of gratitude. Set aside time daily to record several things that you are grateful for. People who regularly keep a gratitude journal report fewer illness symptoms, feel better about their lives and are more optimistic about the future.
Use Visual Reminders
Two obstacles to being grateful are forgetfulness and lack of awareness. Give yourself visual cues that trigger thoughts of gratitude. For example, put notes listing blessings in many places, such as the refrigerator, mirrors and the steering wheel of your car. Or set your phone to give you a ‘gratitude alarm’ a few times a day, so you remember to think of something you’re thankful for.
Have a Gratitude Partner
Just as you may be more likely to exercise if you have an exercise partner or participate in a class, you may be able to maintain the discipline of gratitude more easily if you have a partner with whom to share gratitude lists and to discuss the effects of gratitude in your life.
Say Thank You
In a 2015 study published in the journal Emotion, thanking an acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship and become friends with you. Those two simple words really do go a long way.
Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. It also reduces aggression and creates empathy and understanding. Though Thanksgiving is a great time to express gratitude, we encourage you to try and make giving thanks a regular habit in order to reap its full benefits.