Thanksgiving has passed, cheerful holiday music is on the radio, trees are decorated, and gifts are being purchased. While Thanksgiving is typically known as the day during which we consciously reflect on that for which we are grateful, the entire holiday season provides a perfect time to reflect on what, and most importantly who, matters to us in our lives, and what we are thankful for each day.
A significant amount of positive psychology research has delved into the effects that gratitude has on our psychological and physical health, and the overwhelming verdict shows that taking time to show gratitude daily is strongly correlated with better life satisfaction, health, and well-being. Here are a few of the ways that making time to give thanks a regular part of your life can increase not just your mental health, but your physical health as well.
It can make you happier AND less likely to get sick.
In one study, participants were asked to write a few sentences each week on a specific topic. One group was assigned to write about things for which they were grateful had occurred throughout the week, while another group wrote about things that had irritated them or made them unhappy. After the study ended, the group that wrote about things for which they were grateful felt more optimistic and more positive about their lives than the group that wrote about negative experiences, but it wasn’t just their mental well-being that saw a boost. This group also exhibited fewer trips to the doctor, and exercised more than the group that focused on negative occurrences in their day. Taking time to write just a few positive outcomes during your day can make you happier, as well as less likely to experience negative physical health outcomes.
It can help you sleep better.
In a study of 401 people, of whom 40% were diagnosed with clinical sleep disorders, those that showed higher levels of gratitude also demonstrated better sleep quality. Gratitude predicted better overall sleep quality, a longer time asleep, falling asleep faster, and having more energy throughout the day. One of the main drivers of this result was thinking about positive things before bed, instead of ruminating on worries and anxieties. Thinking about positive ideas over negative worries helps you physically fight off depression and anxiety by making it easier to get better quality sleep.
It is associated with lower blood pressure and is associated with better heart health.
In research conducted by Robert A. Emmons at UC Davis, grateful people were shown to have 16 percent lower diastolic blood pressure, and 10 percent lower systolic blood pressure, compared to people who exhibited less daily gratitude. Gratitude is also positively correlated with higher levels of good cholesterol (HDL), as well as lower levels of bad cholesterol (LDL). Emmons’ research also showed that those who maintained a gratitude journal had a significantly reduced intake of fat in their diets.
One easy and concrete way to practice conscious, daily gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal. In your gratitude journal, you can write short, to-the-point phrases that reflect a few things during your day for which you were thankful. The important thing to note is that this is not an exercise to ignore challenges and hardships; but rather an opportunity to also take the time to consciously reflect on the progress you’ve made and the challenges you’ve overcome.
Ultimately, the key to reaping the mental and physical benefits of gratitude is to create a habit of consciously appreciating what inspires thanks in your life, both during the holidays and every day of the year.