Updated: Oct 1, 2021
What do you think of when you hear the word “gratitude”? Many of us associate it with saying thank you, but it actually means much more than this. It’s a deeper appreciation that generates positivity that lasts, empowering a healthier, happier outlook on life.
If don't already have a gratitude practice, it’s time to create one and make it regular a big part of your self-care.
Because science says that gratitude can improve your physical and emotional health, making you much less likely to be affected by self-doubt and negative thinking. And that's something to celebrate.
How gratitude can improve your health and wellbeing
Gratitude can have all sorts of great benefits for mental and physical health that have been backed up several studies. Here are just a few...
In a study by Robert Emmons at UC Davis in California, one group of participants were asked to list things they were grateful for. The other group focused on the problems and setbacks that had happened that day. The gratitude group saw a 25% improvement in their health and wellbeing, including having more energy, enjoying better quality sleep and experiencing fewer aches and pains. They were also more optimistic about their health than the group that concentrated on the negatives.
Other physical effects include lower stress levels and a reduction in cortisol levels. If you’re someone who is often negatively affected by stress, finding it hard to manage your stress level, demonstrating gratitude on a regular basis can be a game changer for getting on top of that stress.
Gratitude also has physical effects on your body, even when affected by health problems. In a study involving heart disease patients, keeping a gratitude journal helped to reduce inflammation levels and improve their sleep and mood. In some cases, it was thought to be a factor in improving symptoms of heart disease.
In another study, people were asked to write a letter expressing their gratitude and to hand deliver it to the person. Afterwards, they felt a lot happier and more satisfied with their overall life. And these feelings weren’t just fleeting effects either... they often lasted for weeks!
Gratitude can make you more open to forgiving others and help you to form stronger relationships with those around you. If you’re holding onto bitterness and resentment and finding it hard to forgive people for past events, gratitude could be a healing and empowering way to start moving forward.
Ways to include gratitude in your self-care:
Get more mindful.
Mindfulness is a big part of gratitude, which really makes sense when you think about it. After all, how you can be grateful for things if you’re not even aware of them? The more mindful you are, the easier it is to tap into even the tiniest things that are happening around you and the gratitude you feel for them.
Keep a gratitude journal.
Writing down the things that you’re grateful for can be very powerful. According to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, writing in a gratitude journal for 10 weeks proved to have participants experience brighter moods, finding it easier to engage in positive thinking and sleep better. Pretty good, right? Get into the habit of jotting down 3-5 things that you are thankful for each day is simple and takes very little time. These can be anything, from someone who smiled at you in the street and lifted your mood to seeing the faces of your family or a pet after a long day at work.
Incorporate it into yoga.
If you do yoga as part of your self-care routine, why not add another dimension to it with gratitude too? It’s a great opportunity since yoga already places you in the present (yep, it's a mindful practice). Thinking about a few things that you're grateful for while doing yoga can be an easy way to introduce gratitude practice into your life and help it to become more natural.
Write a gratitude letter.
Remember that handwritten letter expressing gratitude that I mentioned earlier? Try it out yourself and see how it feels. Think of someone who has gone out of their way for you, someone who has added some light and bright to your day, or someone who has made some lasting impact on your life. Write a letter to tell them what this means to you. And then make sure it reaches them.
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