The world is ending.
Life as we know it is over.
Things are going to hell in a hand basket.
Doesn't it feel that way sometimes? All the time? Doesn't it seem like we are plagued by bad news, dire events, political upheaval, and mass tragedies?
If those weren't enough, every day our inboxes and social media feeds are cluttered with updates on the newest disease that will kill us, the stuff we should buy to feel happy, and all of the reasons we aren't attractive, wealthy, or successful enough.
We are bombarded with negativity and manipulation, which keeps us weirdly addicted to the information that is feeding our inner angst and unhappiness.
But if you turned off the television, shut down your phone, and closed the lid on your computer, life wouldn't seem so bad, would it?
You have most of what you need and a lot of what you want in life. There are good things happening all around you. People love you. There's food on the table. You have a bed to sleep in and a roof over your head.
The antidote to our unhappiness isn't the newest thing, the better politician, the latest diet fad, or the next achievement. The antidote is gratitude. Gratitude for what you have right now. Gratitude for the people in your life. Gratitude for all good things that are available to you in this moment.
Being grateful isn't an idea you stick on a Post-It note for a quick shot of feel-good. There's a reason (many reasons) why you are hearing it touted so much.
Gratitude can transform you. It can pull you from the vortex of negativity that is sucking the life out of you and give you a renewed sense of purpose and joy. I know this and so does science.
According to an article in the Harvard Healthy Newsletter which outlines research on the topic, “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
Here are 10 transformative benefits of gratitude:
1. Gratitude improves your mental health and well-being.
Tired of feeling anxious, dissatisfied, frustrated, and depressed? Try the practice of being grateful.
According to Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at UC Davis and author of the book, The Psychology of Gratitude, has found through his research that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.
In her book, The How of Happiness, happiness researcher and psychologist, Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, states, “Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions, a neutralizer of envy, hostility, worry, and irritation. It is savoring; it is not taking things for granted; it is present oriented.”
2. Gratitude helps you savor positive experiences.
If I asked you what your top ten life events have been, you could probably reel them off pretty quickly. Maybe they include meeting your spouse or partner, having your children, celebrating big milestones or achievements, or taking the vacation of a lifetime.
But once those experiences have come and gone, we rarely take the time to think about how amazing and memorable they were. Even when good things happen to us in the moment, we are often so busy or distracted that we don't fully experience the joy they afford us.
Gratitude allows you to relive past events and revive the positive feelings they created at the time. You can make yourself feel happy and optimistic simply by dwelling on these events and savoring the joy they brought you.
By being mindful and engaged in the present moment, you will squeeze so much more happiness and appreciation from the experience you're experiencing. Just reminding yourself to stop and feel grateful will give you a boost and enhance the richness of the occasion.
3. Gratitude helps you cope with stress and life difficulties.
Trauma, stress, and negative life events can have the counterintuitive effect of making us feel more grateful.
One study revealed that in the days after the 9/11 attacks in the U.S., gratitude was the second most commonly felt emotion after sympathy.
All of the positive things in our lives come into sharp focus when something tragic happens to us or around us. When we are dealing with stress or adversity, gratitude helps us cope and process our emotions in a healthy way.
By focusing on the positive aspects of our lives, rather than allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by negative events, we feel more in control and optimistic about our situation.
4. Gratitude boosts your confidence and self-esteem.
Gratitude allows you to reflect on your achievements, the people in your life who are important to you, and the blessings you encounter every day.
When you focus on these, you see how good your life really is and how much you have done to make good things happen.
Read Related: How to Practice Gratitude When You Don't Feel Like It
Your hard work has resulted in the house you live in and the material things you own. Your love, devotion, and presence has helped build a strong and secure family. Your efforts in school and past jobs have landed you in this career.
Being grateful for all of your own abilities, skills, interests, and aptitudes will boost your feelings of self-worth and stoke your confidence.
The practice of gratitude is a great replacement for the bad habit of focusing on past failures and setbacks. You can use your negative thinking habits to trigger you to focus on gratitude instead.
5. Gratitude fosters empathy.
Gratitude inspires you to be less materialistic and more inclined to help others. As you focus on your own blessings, you become keenly aware of what other people don't have.
When you feel grateful for easy access to food and water, you might be inspired to support or help someone who doesn't. As you express gratefulness for your wonderful friendships, you might decide to reach out to someone who is lonely.
The practice of gratitude has a spillover effect, making you more aware of the feelings and suffering of others long after you practice it. You will become a more compassionate person in general.
6. Gratitude improves your physical health.
If you want to be healthier and more fit, start counting your blessings. Maybe even count them while taking a walk or riding your bike.
According to a 2012 study, people who practice gratitude have fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people.
Grateful people are more inclined to practice healthy activities, eat better, and seek treatment for health concerns, adding to their longevity.
7. Gratitude gives you a better night's sleep.
Lying in bed wide-eyed, fretting over all of your worries? Pull out a pen and your journal and start writing down everything you're grateful for.
Many studies have shown that gratitude journaling before bed can reduce worry and pessimism, helping you relax and fall asleep faster. Some study participants reported getting longer, more refreshing sleep as well.
8. Gratitude fosters resilience.
When you are grateful for what you have, you are better able to overcome negative events in your life. You don't view your life as a “glass half empty,” but rather you recognize that despite bad things happening, you will survive and even thrive.
In fact, gratefulness was shown to be a critical factor in preventing post traumatic stress disorder in veterans after the Vietnam war and following the terrorists attacks on 9/11.
With the practice of gratitude, you build your inner coping muscle, allowing you to manage life difficulties with less emotional trauma.
9. Gratitude strengthens relationships.
Do you want a happier, stronger marriage? Focus on your partner's good qualities and the positive aspects of your relationship, rather than dwelling on what's missing.
Do you want closer friendships? Let your friends know how much your appreciate them and how grateful you are to have them as friends.
Do you want more success at work? Tell your boss and coworkers how thankful you are for their support and hard work.
In fact, you don't even need to tell them you're grateful (although it's a nice thing to do) in order to benefit. Just feeling gratitude for these people will improve your relationship with them.
Gratitude strengthens feelings of intimacy and connectedness with others. The closer you feel with the important people in your life, the more you will discover and enjoy about them — which in turn gives you more to feel grateful about.
Having close, satisfying relationships is a huge factor in lifelong happiness and health.
10. Gratitude enhances mindfulness.
Whenever you find yourself pulled away by distractions, negative news, or mental ruminating, turn your attention to gratitude instead. Focus on everything around you that you can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch that you feel grateful for.
The chair you are sitting in. The sun streaming in the window. The smell of coffee brewing. The taste of the food you are eating. The sound of the wind in the trees. How often we take these simple but glorious things for granted.
When you focus on the good things that are right in front of you, you can fully experience and appreciate the moment without suffering or distraction. You savor the beauty of right now and all of the simple blessings packed within this moment.
Do you need some ideas for how to practice gratitude? Here are a few to consider:
- Keep a gratitude journal, and add to it every evening before bed.
- Write a love note to your spouse or partner and tell them how grateful you for him or her.
- Take a few minutes every morning to appreciate your bed and your night of sleep.
- Before you eat, express (silently or out loud) gratitude for the food you are eating.
- Savor the food you eat as you are eating it.
- Feel grateful for the beauty of the natural world around you.
- Say “thank you” to all of the service people in your life, like the mail person, the grocery clerk, etc.
- Call your friends and tell them what you love about them.
- Perform a random act of kindness every day.
- Think about losing the people and things you love and what you would miss about them.
- Acknowledge and praise someone at work who has done a good job.
- Let your parents know how much you appreciate them and all they have done for you.
- Think about all of the people who have help you and given you opportunities along the way.
- Have a gratitude moment with your family when you each express your blessings.
- Ponder all of your personal strengths and aptitudes and feel grateful for them.
- Make a gratitude board, pasting images on it of things you are grateful for.
- Make an effort to find the positive in difficult situations.
- Spend less time watching the news, surfing the net, and hanging out on social media.
How do you express gratitude and how has the practice of gratitude impacted your life? Share your thoughts in the comments below.