You missed the bus. You spilled coffee on your whitest shirt. Your go-to guilty pleasure is no longer available on Netflix (RIP Dawson’s Creek).
So why in the world would you choose this moment to be grateful?
Gratitude is a funny thing. We all know we should feel and express it on a regular basis, but it often gets brushed aside for more impulsive states of mind like irritation, impatience, and plain old exhaustion. The annoyances of everyday life can easily overshadow the intention to count our blessings. For many of us, the most profound reminder to reflect on life’s positive moments arrives just once a year on Thanksgiving, and even that occasion can be more about ingesting a variety of carbs than actually giving thanks.
But gratitude does much more than provide an annual excuse for a turkey-heavy food coma. Cultivating a regular practice of genuine appreciation for the good things in life can do wonders for your health and even the health of those around you. Research shows grateful people are more likely to behave in a pro-social manner, experiencing more sensitivity and empathy toward others and a decreased desire to seek revenge. And in times of uncertainty or suffering, gratitude can be the thing to get you through to the other side, reminding you that there is good in the world, even when things seem hopeless.
“Giving thanks for what we value makes us really consider what we do value,” says One Medical psychologist Christine Celio, PhD, who is based in San Francisco. “It allows us to clarify our priorities and think about how we are living. Is what we are doing consistent with what our values are? And if not, what can we do to live more in line with what we believe? Thinking about gratitude can do more than benefit us emotionally – it can encourage us to change our behavior to live differently, and, hopefully, better.”
According to Celio, simply taking time on a regular basis to acknowledge the good in life can have a profound effect on your perspective. “I think of it as one of those optical illusions where when you focus so much on the dark space, you can hardly see the light. Having a designated time to actually reflect on the metaphorical light can create more light in your own life. It can allow you to think about what is going right and what you can do to keep it going in that direction.”
This year, rather than consolidating all your thankful thoughts into one holiday, consider Thanksgiving an opportunity to start incorporating gratitude into every day. Here are five reasons gratitude is good for you:
1. Gratitude can improve your relationships.
If you’re trying to reignite the romance in your life, skip the flowers and candy and just say thanks. According to one study, individuals who took the time to express gratitude for their partner felt more positive toward them and more comfortable expressing concerns about the relationship. And men and women with grateful partners felt more connected to their mate and more satisfied with the romantic relationship. Plus, gratitude is good whether you’re newly in love or far beyond the honeymoon stage. Gratitude for one’s partner was related to higher marital satisfaction and better adjustment among newlyweds and appreciation was listed as one of the most important factors contributing to a satisfactory long-term marriage (25-40 years).
2. Gratitude can improve productivity and performance.
Whether you’re a student, striving to climb the corporate ladder, or are heading up a corporation, a little bit of gratitude can go a long way. One study showed employees who hear messages of gratitude from managers may feel motivated to work harder, and another study showed that grateful high schoolers had higher GPAs, better social integration, and overall satisfaction with life than their non-grateful counterparts.
3. It can help you sleep better.
If you’re having trouble getting sufficient shut-eye, try giving thanks. Writing in a gratitude journal for 15 minutes before bed was shown to help students worry less and sleep longer and better. Another study found that gratitude predicted better sleep quality and duration and less sleepiness during the day. Researchers explained that when falling asleep, grateful people are less likely to think negative and worrying thoughts that impair sleep and more likely to think about positive things, enhancing sleep quality.
4. It can help your heart.
Cultivating and expressing gratitude isn’t just good for your heart in a metaphoric sense; appreciation and positive emotions literally protects the vital organ. According to researchers, these feelings may be beneficial in the treatment of hypertension and reducing the likelihood of sudden death from congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease. Studies on optimism, a trait directly linked to gratitude, show an association between positive thinking and lower blood pressure levels. Researchers even found that the few times optimists did experience negativity, their blood pressure levels were as high as those observed among pessimists or anxious individuals, regardless of mood.
5. It can help you cope with stress and boost your mental strength.
If the physical benefits of gratitude aren’t enough to convince you to give thanks, then maybe the mental payoff will. One study involving Vietnam War veterans found that those with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder. And although it may sound counterintuitive, feeling thankful in trying times can help you bounce back. Gratitude was found to be a major contributor to resilience after the September 11 tragedies.