Gratitude – an Attitude for a Healthier, Longer Life

Man holding hand over heart expressing gratitude

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, its that time of year to focus on things that we are grateful for. Many of us gather with friends and family and show our appreciation that these people are in our lives. For one short day, feelings of gratitude abound and we feel better about our lives, that (hopefully) we are in some way cherished and thankful for all that has been given to us.

But gratitude is an attitude that we should not keep locked up for only one day each year. Gratitude is a powerful antidote to much of what is harmful to our psychological well-being. Put in a simple way – gratitude encourages optimism and optimism builds hope. And hope is one of the most effective medicines for the soul.

Years ago, we took a look at five ways to foster gratitude in your life. Today, let’s take a look at why gratitude is so important to your health and suggest more ways to instill gratitude in your life.

The Health Benefits of Gratitude

Researchers have only been rigorously studying gratitude for the past few decades and it’s only in the past few years that the benefits of gratitude have really gained attention. It suggests that gratitude may play an important part in helping us thrive. Here are some areas where gratitude can help us:

Gratitude as an antidote to anxiety and depression – emerging evidence shows that practicing being grateful is an alternative approach to using antidepressant medication in battling anxiety and depression. Gratitude is connected to the systems of the brain that regulate emotions and support stress relief, such as heart rate, arousal levels, and pain. When activated, these areas of the brain can boost positive emotions and protect against feelings of stress and anxiety, leading to an overall calmer mood.

Gratitude helps us feel valued – gratitude plays a role in making us or another feel valued in our lives. Recognition boosts self-esteem and self-value, increasing self-worth, motivation, productivity, achievement, and more. In turn, lifts in our value help to minimize negative habits, destructive patterns of thinking, and negative feelings.

Gratitude reprograms your brain to see the positive – our senses pick up over 2,000,000 bits of information per second. That information then gets filtered down to a manageable 126 bits by deleting and generalizing the input. The brain uses our beliefs and expectations to determine what to delete and what to save. Within nanoseconds, our brains organize that data, store it, draw conclusions, tell our bodies how to react, and formulate lessons and learnings. When you focus on gratitude, your brain starts to focus on the positive around you, allowing you to begin to see the world in a different way – especially when you are looking for things to be happy about.

Gratitude helps you live longer – since gratitude encourages optimism, having an attitude of gratitude can actually help you live a longer, healthier life. Researchers found that people with optimistic attitudes were significantly less likely to experience a heart attack, stroke, or angina, and were less likely to die from any cause compared to pessimistic people. Other studies have shown that the most optimistic people had an approximately 15 percent longer lifespan compared to the most pessimistic people.

Ways to Cultivate Gratitude in Your Life

Sometimes, troubles in your life make it hard to muster gratitude for things like being alive or the loved ones in your life. Here are some ways that you can push through those times by adopting an attitude of gratitude:

  • Start small – try saying thanks for the crisp air on a Fall day, the taste of your favorite coffee blend, a phone call from your best friend, or a chance to sleep in. Be thankful for the food and drink you consume. When dark thoughts try to push everything else aside, expressing gratitude is a powerful way to push back.
  • Balance your thoughts – for every negative thought, comment, fear, or worry, balance it out with a positive, optimistic response.
  • Appreciate the world around you – really take a moment to stop and smell the roses. See and be thankful for the beauty around you.
  • Write thank you letters – properly thanking people helps you to feel happier, takes a burden off of your mind, and encourages the recipient with your gratitude, making them feel good about themselves. It’s a win-win for both of you.
  • Keep a gratitude journal – every week, record five things you have experienced in the past week for which you are grateful. Studies have shown that keeping a gratitude journal can lead to better sleep, fewer symptoms of illness, and greater all-around happiness.

The change from pessimism to optimism takes effort and practice. Gratitude has a way of spreading exponentially. The more you choose to be grateful, the more you will find to appreciate. You will notice the beauty all around you in the world and begin living the essence of happiness, health, and healing.