The science of gratitude, and why it’s so important for our overall wellbeing.
As we tip into the last quarter of the year, it’s a good time to reflect on 2022 and identify all the things you’re feeling grateful for so far. These can of course be big things, like starting a new business, or having a baby, but it’s also important to celebrate the smaller wins as well. Often it’s the culmination of the small things that really make the biggest impact on our mindset, like finally keeping your indoor plants alive, or finishing a project at work that you’re really proud of. Spending time reflecting and taking stock of all these seemingly small accomplishments will have a greater impact on your life than you can begin to imagine.
Given the tumultuous events of the past few years, celebrating our wins may be more difficult than usual, but in fact, this makes it all the more important that we focus on the positives – whatever these may look like. Whether it’s learning a new skill to adapt to the changing employment landscape, or picking up a hobby during lockdown, we have all achieved more than we might think – well against the odds!
Here are six surprising benefits of practicing gratitude.
It’s great for your mindset
Two psychologists, Dr Roberts A Emmons of the University of California, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have done significant research on the concept of giving thanks.
The concept of the experiment was simple; one group were asked to write a few sentences about things they were grateful for that week, the second group were asked to write about irritations that happened in the week, the third to write about things that affected them[MOU1] . After 10 weeks, the group who were focusing on the positive side of life reported that they were feeling more optimistic about their lives. The members of this group were also found to exercise more and had fewer visits to the doctor.
It’s great for your patience and self-control
Research from Northeastern University found that people who were practicing gratitude regularly, were able to make better and more sensible decisions. When 105 students were asked whether they would prefer to receive a small amount of money immediately, or a large amount of money at some point in the future, the students who had exhibited gratitude were more likely to hold out for the larger amount. “[When] you cultivate gratitude in your life, it’s like a self-control buffer. It helps you more frequently be ready to resist temptation and do the right thing, whatever that right thing may be,” says study author David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University.
It’s great for your relationship
The Journal of Theoretical Social Psychology released a study that practicing gratitude and feeling grateful toward your partner improves multiple aspects of the relationship. “Having a partner that’s grateful for you or you being grateful for the other” can both help your love life, says Emma Seppälä, a happiness researcher at Stanford and Yale Universities and author of The Happiness Track. Overall, couples who were practicing some degree of gratitude toward one another were reported to feel more connected and satisfied overall.
It’s great for your glow up
In a study published by the journal Personality and Individual Difference, researchers evaluated people’s level of gratitude, and then compared it with how likely these individuals were to engage in wellness-boosting behaviours. They found that there was a positive correlation between gratitude, and the amount of time invested in activities such as exercise, healthy eating and doctor’s visits. This means that by being grateful, you’ll also improve your physical health!
It’s great for your sleep
“Count blessings, not sheep,” Seppälä says. Research from the Journal of Psychosomatic Research found that people who actively engage in positive thoughts tend to sleep both longer, and better. So, if you’re going to do an exercise like a gratitude journal, we recommend you do it just before bed – this will soothe the nervous system and help you get a fabulous slumber.
It’s great for your diet
Susan Pierce Thompson, a cognitive scientist believes that “gratitude replenishes willpower”. She’s studied the psychology of eating for years, and through her studies she’s found that feelings of gratitude can boost your impulse control, and helps you to slow down and make more metered decisions. By simply jotting down a few things you’re feeling grateful for, you can clear your mind and reset, making it easier to resist temptation.