Far too many people tend to delay happiness and tie it to a future event.
How many time have you said or heard someone day, "I'll be happy when ____" ?
"I'll be happy when I make a million dollars, when I buy that new car, when I finish this project, when I get a new job" etc. The list goes on and on.
While I understand the importance in striving to do and have more in life, it's incredibly important to take a step back and simply be grateful for what you already have.
In fact, there is a ton of research demonstrating that the simple emotion of gratitude can completely transform your mental and physical health!
The World Health Organization Estimates that 300 million people suffer from depression, making it the #1 cause of disability in the world! (1)
Having a gratitude practice is a simple way you can immediately begin to reduce your feelings of depression, anxiety, stress, and overall unhappiness.
Spending some time each day thinking about what your grateful for has been proven to rewire your brain to make your happier, more optimistic, and overall healthier! (2)
What is Gratitude
Gratitude can be loosely defined. Many people think of gratitude as a short-lived pleasant emotion that's felt when you receive a gift, when someone does something nice for you, or during the holidays that just comes and goes periodically.
I see gratitude as so much more than this.
Gratitude is a whole perspective on life. It's a mindset. A powerful emotion that has the ability to dictate how you interact with the world.
Gratitude is really finding the good and the positive in yourself and others.
Positive thinking is slightly different than gratitude because you can use gratitude even when you face life challenges and experiences a low points. Positive thinking is great, but it only goes so far. Gratitude is more far reaching.
Expressing gratitude helps to increase positive neurotransmitters and lower stress hormones like cortisol, which results in an overall happier, healthier state of being.
The research is clear that by making a gratitude practice part of your life, you experience profound physiological and psychological benefits.
Proven Health Benefits of Gratitude
One of the amazing things about expressing gratitude is that it can have long-term benefits! Sure it's great to feel good for a few moment or that day, but we are all searching for life-long happiness.
A study out of Neuroimage showed that a brief gratitude practice enables peoples brains to still be wired to feel happy even 3 months later! (3)
The more you practice gratitude the more you become aware of the thousands of blessings you have, most of which are taken for granted and rarely recognized.
Gratitude becomes a self-perpetuating cycle which leads to a shift in your mindset and neurochemistry, literally setting you up to be a happier, healthier, and an overall better person.
1. Gratitude Enhances Your Physical Health
It makes sense that your thoughts and emotions can effect your mental health, but what's really amazing is that scientists have shown that gratitude can enhance your physical health on a physiological level!
A study out of The Journey of Religion and Health demonstrated that people who were more grateful were also more hopeful for the future which resulted in better physical health (4)
A paper from Psychology Today cited research studies that found that people who were more grateful took better care of themselves and experienced less physical pain. (5)
It makes sense. When you are feeling depressed or anxious, you tend to make poor food choices, you don't make it to the gym for your workouts, and you binge watch TV rather than interacting with other people and attending social gatherings.
It's been known for a long time that your mental health directly and indirectly impacts your physical health, and gratitude is the key to improving both!
2. Gratitude Improves Sleep
I bet you didn't expect this one, but the research clearly shows that expressing gratitude can positively impact your sleep.
I believe sleep is the most important, foundational aspect to good health. No amount of of nutrients, movement, water, or anything else can overcome lack of adequate high-quality sleep!
A paper out of the Journal of Psychosomatic Research found that those who expressed gratitude slept better. (6)
Researcher Deepak Chopra published a study in 2015 that showed gratitude helped improve sleep, decrease depression, lower fatigue, and much more! (7)
The simple act of writing down a list of things you are grateful for at the end of the day helps you sleep better! This is an integral part of my daily routine, but more on that later.
3. Gratitude Boosts Resilience to Stress
Focusing on what your grateful for helps to lower stress and shift your mindset to enable you use the positive in your life to outweigh the negative.
This can be particularly helpful when dealing with a hardship or low point.
One study found that war veterans who expressed more gratitude were less impacted by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than those who didn't. (8)
Additionally, expressing gratitude has been shown to lower the stress hormone cortisol. This stress hormone when chronically elevated is linked to weight gain, chronic fatigue, food cravings, sleep issues, and much more.
4. Gratitude Improves Mental Health
Mental health issues have become an issue of epidemic proportions. As mentioned earlier in this article, depression is the #1 disability world wide, and anxiety is not far behind.
Gratitude on the other hand can help mental health disorders like depression in just minutes! It's nearly impossible to feel anger, sadness, or hopelessness at the same time as you feel grateful. Typically, it's one or the other.
A research study done in 2015 found that expressing more gratitude resulted in higher levels of well-being, greater satisfaction in life, and lower levels of distress. (9)
Researches at the Indian Journal of Positive Psychology found that expressing gratitude simply made you a happier person. (10)
How to Express Gratitude
Experiencing feelings of gratitude doesn't require anything but your thoughts.
You can do it anytime, anywhere, about anything.
I do strongly believe that incorporating a gratitude practice is the key to reaping the full extent of the benefits listed above.
Either writing it down in a gratitude journal or verbalizing it by saying what you are grateful for out-loud to yourself or a loved one is the best method to consciously express gratitude.
I personally believe this should be done EVERY morning when you wake up and every night before you go to sleep.
There is no better way to start and end the day than in a place of gratitude, reflecting on all the positive, wonderful things in your life.
This has become an integral part of my daily routine.
Every single morning when I wake up I start my day by drinking 32 oz of filtered, mineralized water and writing down 10+ things I'm grateful for in my gratitude journal outside in the morning sun.
This primes my mind and body to have a successful, happy, and joyful day.
In the evening, part of my night time ritual after I do my planning and other journaling exercises is to write down 10+ things I am grateful for (while wearing my blue blockers of course).
This gets my mind in a positive, happy place right before bed which literally helps to wire of circuits in my brain for happiness. It's the best state of mind to get a great night of sleep.
A few tips for your gratitude practice:
- Try to not repeat the same things over and over. Sure you are always going to be grateful for your health, family, and friends, but go outside the box and identify blessings in your life that don't get much attention. Examples such as: your breath, clean water, vision and eyesight, ability to read/write, etc. There will inevitably be some repetition, but strive to go above and beyond the norm.
- Do it EVERY day! Consistency is the key. Science has proven that doing something daily is essential to reap the full benefit and make it part of your mindset. Make it a priority to express gratitude daily, ideally morning and evening. It's especially important to do during times you don't feel like doing it. When your stressed, over worked, and lacking the time is when your need your gratitude practice the most!
- If you can't write it, say it. Some days life happens and you wake up late for work and theres simply no time to spend an extra 5 minutes for your gratitude journaling. On these days, simply verbalize it! On your commune to work, say out-loud the things you are grateful for. Thinking it is great to, but something about verbalizing your thoughts makes it even more powerful.
- Share your Gratitude Practice with others. Expressing your gratitude and appreciation for your loved ones is one of the best ways to express it. Do this during dinner or go on a walk with your significant other and tell them the specific reasons your grateful to have them in your life. Also share the many other blessings in your life your grateful for with each other. Discuss the things that happened that day your grateful for and lessons you learned. This will benefit you and your relationship in countless ways.
- Don't just write/say it mindlessly, FEEL IT! As you go through your gratitude practice, it's far to easy to try and get through the list of 10 things quickly without truly acknowledging each item. Take a brief moment to breath, close your eyes, and embrace the feeling of gratitude associated with each blessing you list.
Life is so incredible and it's important to take time to appreciate all the wonderful things in your life.
We all go through ups and downs and suffer loss and hardship, but I can guarantee no matter what you are going through, focusing on the positive in your life will make it better.
We all to often compare our lives to others who are seemingly doing "better" than us. "He/she has this house, and travels here, and does this, and I don't have/do any of that and my job sucks, etc."
Always remember there are millions, literally millions, of people who would love to be in your shoes. Who would do anything for your life. Your job. Your opportunities.
The ONLY person you should ever compare yourself to, is who you were yesterday. If you are improving and growing, then you are winning. Simple as that.
A daily gratitude practice only takes 5-10 minutes. You have NO excuse not to do.
It will likely be the most important 5-10 minutes you spend everyday. I promise it will enhance your life and happiness.
Make the time and incorporate this simple, free, and enjoyable practice into your life everyday.