The Health Benefits of Gratitude
Focusing on the good things in your life may improve your mental and physical health.
Talking about what you’re thankful for before Thanksgiving dinner is a heart-warming and time-honored tradition. But what about the other 364 days of the year?
There’s good reason to practice that holiday tradition every day.
Research shows that expressing gratitude year-round offers several physical, mental, social and emotional benefits. Being grateful means having a thankful appreciation of the things in your life, whether they’re tangible or intangible. Gratitude can be related to something in the past (recalling positive memories from childhood), the present (not taking anything for granted in your daily life) or the future (maintaining a hopeful and optimistic attitude about what’s to come).
Here are just some of the benefits of expressing gratitude:
- It helps you combat mental health issues. When you are grateful, you feel positive emotions that release dopamine, the feel-good chemicals in your brain. This helps ward off mental health issues like stress, anxiety and depression. People who are able to acknowledge that they have a lot to be thankful for are also more likely to pay attention to their physical health—and physical and mental health are intricately connected.
- It may improve your physical health. Studies show that people of all ages who consider themselves to be grateful have fewer health issues than those who don’t. More research is needed because it isn’t clear whether gratefulness results in better health or better health results in gratefulness. But either way, those who express gratitude had fewer headaches, respiratory infections and gastrointestinal issues, along with healthier hearts.
- It can help you sleep better. If positive, grateful thoughts are running through your head as you try to fall asleep rather than a replay of stressful events, you’re more likely to fall asleep and sleep more soundly. Good sleep is essential for recharging your body and mind and for helping to ward off health issues like high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
- It may increase your self-esteem. When you feel grateful, you’re more likely to think of yourself in a more positive light because you’re less likely to compare yourself to others.
- It helps you build and nurture strong relationships. When you express feelings of gratitude to other people, you’re also more empowered to talk about any concerns you may have about your relationship. All of this may result in stronger and more trusting relationships, with both participants feeling valued.
Not sure exactly how to express gratitude? Here are just a few simple ways to do so (but each person feels grateful in whatever way works best for them):
- Keep a journal or list to note what you’re grateful for, whether it’s something big or small.
- When things are hard, take a moment to think of what you can be grateful for in the situation (deal with the negative by focusing on the positive).
- Start or end each day by thinking about one thing you’re grateful for.
- Tell someone how special they are to you or how thankful you are for something they’ve done.
- Write a note or send a gift to someone to let them know how much they mean to you.
PIH Health Volunteer Director, Marianne Cota tells us, “I am grateful every day because I get to work alongside the many volunteers that don’t necessarily have a lot of time to give, but they have heart, want to help their community and give back. These are very special people.”
To learn about volunteer opportunities at PIH Health, visit PIHHealth.org/Volunteer.
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