Research studies have shown over 10 benefits of gratitude. Here, I break some of them down for ya!
A few months ago, I started to be more intentional about practicing gratitude. In just a short period of time, I started to see a significant difference in my mindset and thought patterns.
I was curious to know why this small practice was having such an impact on my day-to-day life. So I decided to dig into the research!
I was excited to find a lot of proof that gratitude has several physical and mental health benefits. From simple things like improving your relationships and self esteem all the way to how gratitude literally rewires your brain over time!
I hope this article helps you see how gratitude can change your life.
What Gratitude Means
To learn the 10 benefits of gratitude, a good place to start is by understanding what gratitude means.
Gratitude is the quality of being thankful or readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindess.
I personally like another more specific definition from Robert Emmons, one of the world’s leading scientists on gratitude. Emmons had been studying gratitude for over a decade when he wrote his essay “Why Gratitude is Good”. In it, he defines gratitude in 2 parts:
1. It's an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world.
2.We recognize the sources of this goodness as being outside of ourselves.
In other words, living in gratitude doesn’t dismiss the fact that there are problems, bad days, and hard times. Instead, gratitude means recognizing that in the midst of the bad, there is also always good.
By Emmons’s definition, part of gratitude is humbling ourselves by acknowledging that we depend on the world outside of ourselves. This could be another person, an animal, something in nature, or a higher being.
How Gratitude Helps Your Mental Health
1. It makes you happier
When we express gratitude, our brain releases serotonin and dopamine. You’re probably familiar with these hormones, but let’s take a deeper look at what they do.
Serotonin: the happy hormone
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, sleep, and the digestive system. Basically, it stabilizes your happiness and well-being.
The most commonly prescribed antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, SSRIs, work to reduce depression and anxiety symptoms by increasing the release of serotonin.
Gratitude is a way you can increase serotonin naturally.
Dopamine: the motivation molecule
Dopamine is another neurotransmitter. It regulates things like how we focus, think and plan, and find things interesting. It also affects mood, sleep, and pain processing. It’s the hormone that leads you to seek a new job or start a creative hobby.
Think of dopamine like a seesaw, you want the right amount of dopamine to stay balanced. Too much or too little will swing the pendulum too far.
It’s important to raise dopamine levels through a “drip” rather than a “high” in order to experience true happiness that lasts.
Some of the ways we can do this are through exercise, meditation, and you guessed it, keeping a gratitude list. To sum it up, one of the 10 benefits of gratitude is that it releases hormones that make you happier!
2. Improves your response to stress, trauma, and burnout
A study conducted in 2022 in response to heightened stress during COVID found that writing down things you’re grateful for helps you cope. Writing it down was shown to be more effective than expressing it verbally. The act of writing causes you to engage in cognitive processing and meaning-making process.
Studies have also shown that expressing gratitude can serve as a nonpharmocological modality to decrease your systolic blood pressure and cortisol levels. So, if you've been recently diagnosed with high blood pressure or feel stressed regularly, think of gratitude as a proven way to lower your BP naturally in conjunction with your medication!
It’s no wonder then that gratitude helps manage common symptoms of burnout such as lack of motivation, low energy levels, and difficulty focusing.
3. Leads to improvements in emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is being able to communicate effectively by recognizing your own feelings and expressing them appropriately. It also includes being able to interpret emotions others are feeling and respond to them in an effective way.
We probably all know someone who just doesn’t seem very emotionally intelligent. Whether they don’t know when to stop talking, the appropriate timing to say something, or they just aren’t a good communicator in general.
The good news is that gratitude can help improve this vital aspect of human relationships!
Improved emotional intelligence can lead to a better work life, improved romantic relationships and friendships, and higher self-awareness.
4. Improves your relationships and connection with others
Practicing gratitude helps you show up to the world more empathetic, kind, compassionate, and present. Being more grateful leads to improved relationships and deeper connections with the people around you.
Not only has it been shown to strengthen the bond you share in your current relationships, but it has also been shown to help you develop healthy new relationships too.When it comes to romance, studies have shown that everyday gratitude can be a “booster shot” to romantic relationships.
People are proven to experience a deeper connection and satisfaction in their relationship when they express gratitude for their significant other.
You don’t need to wait for your significant other to start showing gratitude for you. You can start expressing appreciation for them and you will both reap the reward!
5. Boosts self esteem and overall life satisfaction
Over time, a benefit of gratitude is that it helps improve self-esteem. Part of this may relate to reason #6, that gratitude decreases feelings like envy.
When our perspective changes and we start to see the world in a more positive light, we stop comparing our life to the lives of others so much.We start to see ourselves and our own life in a positive light too.Plus, studies show that the most powerful people are also the most grateful people.
6. Decreases negative emotions like envy and resentment
Neuroscience experts have explored something called the “negativity bias”.
This is a belief that human brains remember and process negative information or experiences in order to avoid feeling the same pain in the future.Gratitude is a way for humans to reset their brains to focus on positive emotions like celebration, excitement, and optimism about the future.
You can only see the world glass half full or half empty; you can’t see it both ways at the same time. Replace your negative thoughts with positive ones. Over time as you develop new brain pathways, you will start to automatically see the world and everything that happens to you from a more positive view.
We live in a time of constant comparison because we are able to open our phones and see someone else’s highlight reel at any given time. Gratitude can help decrease the feeling that you are somehow missing out or not quite where you are supposed to be.
7. Decreases Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression
Research conducted in 2022 by Frontiers in Psychology studied the effects of gratitude on women with depressive and anxiety-related symptoms.
The study showed that having a disposition of gratitude led to overall improved well-being. More specifically, it led to a decrease in feelings of anxiety and depression.
Gratitude has even been proven to improve the quality of life for women with breast cancer. It increases their ability to adapt and cope with the difficult illness and treatment side effects!
8. Gratitude Rewires Your Brain
The positive effects of gratitude are long-term. Remember how we talked about how gratitude increases serotonin (the happy hormone) and dopamine (the motivation molecule) to healthy levels in your brain?
Over time, these hormones change the medial prefrontal cortex of your brain, also known as the “pleasure center” of your brain. It quite literally changes your brain! Plus, if you practice gratitude today, you will still see the results from it a month from now and even 12 weeks from now.
So if you create a regular cadence of being grateful, you are really setting yourself up for a happier and healthier tomorrow.
9. Better sleep quality and increased duration of sleep
Practicing gratitude in the evening leads to reported improvements in sleep. This is one of the 10 benefits of gratitude I could use more of myself!
The benefits include better quality of sleep, longer duration of sleep, easier time falling and staying asleep, and less daytime dysfunction or lack of focus due to a lack of sleep.
10. Boosts Your Immune System
For obvious reasons, immune health has become more of a priority for many people since 2020. It pays dividends to have a strong immune system, especially during stressful circumstances or seasons of life.
Being more grateful in daily life leads to better sleep, increased likelihood to eat healthy and exercise, a healthier brain, decreased stress hormones such as cortisol which lead to inflammation, and decreased overall stress levels.
All of this contributes to a healthier body system and more specifically, improved immune health!
Anxiety and depression have been on the rise since COVID-19.
In this article, I shared 10 benefits of gratitude with you. Gratitude helps improve your mental health through the release of serotonin and dopamine. It literally rewires your brain.
Plus, it helps improve stress management, self-esteem and overall life satisfaction. As if that wasn’t enough, it also decreases symptoms of depression and anxiety and leads to better sleep and improved immunity.
The best part is that it’s free and doesn’t take much time. A little bit of gratitude can reap big benefits, short-term and long-term.
I hope you enjoyed reading about the 10 Benefits of Gratitude! I'd love to hear from you! 🙂 Leave a comment below or get in touch with me on instagram @mallorythedietitian.
Resources: American Psychology Association, Frontiers in Psychology, Dictionary.com, Greater Good Magazine, Global Advances in Health and Medicine, The Neuro Clinic, Harvard Business Review, verywellhealth.com, webmd, Forbes , Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine, insider.com
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