SALT LAKE CITY — 'Tis the season to be thankful! During the months of November and December, it seems people slow down just a bit more than usual to recognize all they have and what they are grateful for.
From family and friends to nature's beauty, and everything in between, there is definitely much to be thankful for. But did you know that being thankful is actually good for your health?
It's true! There are scientifically proven benefits of gratitude. And while studies do not prove cause and effect, many of the studies published on gratitude support an association between being grateful and overall well-being. Here are a few reasons why being thankful is good for you, as well as how you can cultivate more gratitude this holiday season and all year round.
Being thankful is good for physical health
Having a good quality of life is something we all strive for and desire. A 2020 prospective study published in Psycological Reports found that a greater combined and person-centered state of gratitude each predicted higher quality of life in study participants. People who are grateful are more likely to self-report better physical health, participate in healthy activities and go to the doctor, according to a 2013 study of Swiss adults that was published in Personality and Individual Differences.
A 2020 review of studies in Journal of Psychosomatic Research on gratitude interventions and their effects on physical health showed improvements in blood pressure, glycemic control, asthma control and eating behavior. Though, other outcomes were understudied and showed mixed results, including inflammation markers and self-reported physical symptoms.
Being thankful is good for mental and emotional health
There is something to be said about the power of positive thinking. Being thankful may increase positive behaviors, personal happiness and life satisfaction, and it can reduce negative attitudes and depression symptoms, according to a 2019 study published in Frontiers.
In a study published in the Psychotherapy Research journal in 2016, 293 adults seeking psychotherapy services were randomly assigned to psychotherapy only, psychotherapy plus expressive writing, or psychotherapy plus gratitude writing. At four and 12 weeks after the writing intervention, participants who wrote about gratitude reported significantly better mental health than those in the expressive writing and psychotherapy only groups.
Being thankful helps you sleep better
Instead of counting sheep at night to fall asleep, try counting your blessings. It may actually help you sleep better!
According to a 2017 study published in Behavioral Sleep Medicine, people who were more grateful had higher daytime energy and a greater number of hours of sleep per night. Interestingly, depressive moods appeared to have an effect on gratitude and self-reported sleep quality. Researchers say this suggests that people who are more grateful have fewer symptoms of depression, leading to less pre-sleep worries — which can result in better sleep quality.
Being thankful improves self-esteem
Comparison is the thief of joy. Instead of being resentful toward someone else's seemingly wonderful life, show appreciation for their accomplishments. In turn, focus on and recognize the wonderful things in your life. A 2018 study published in Body Image showed that gratitude plays a key role in body appreciation for women, which can help improve self-esteem.
Other studies published online in The Journal of Social Psychology in 2019 have shown an association between high self-esteem and being grateful. Even athletes' self-esteem is increased thanks to gratitude, with self-esteem being a key component of athletic performance, according to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology.
Being thankful improves relationships
Showing gratitude to your significant other can decrease feelings of insecurity and improve commitment in a relationship, according to a 2019 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Showing gratitude in the workplace is an "antidote against toxic emotions," according to Robert A. Emmons, a leading scientific expert on gratitude, and workplace gratitude has been shown to increase positive relationships, social support and workers' well-being.
Ways to cultivate an attitude of gratitude
Start a gratitude journal
Find a notebook, journal or even just a piece of paper and write down what you are thankful for. Set aside time each day or week to quietly sit and ponder on all you have to give thanks for. Look back often at what you have written to remind yourself of the positives in your life.
Meditation involves being more mindful and aware of the present moment without judgment. Although people often focus on their breathing, you can also focus on what you're thankful for — like the birds chirping, the fresh air, or a warm house. Get more in tune with your gratitude by practicing meditation on a regular basis.
Write "Thank you" notes
Writing a note of gratitude and appreciation to a loved one or friend does more than increase your gratitude; it is also beneficial to the person on the receiving end, as well as to your relationship with one another. Send it in the mail or deliver it yourself for a more personal touch.
What better way to show thankfulness (and in turn increase gratitude) to someone than through service? There are so many simple ways to serve those around you, such as helping an elderly neighbor with their grocery shopping, shoveling snow off your neighbor's driveway, donating your time to a local charity or nonprofit, teaching a skill you have learned to someone else, or even something as simple as smiling or holding the door open for someone.
Compliment and praise others
Notice the strengths and good in those around you and let them know! Compliment your co-worker on how great of a job they did on a project, let your friend know you really enjoyed the cookies they brought you, or tell your child how proud you are of them. Even taking the time to notice someone's new haircut or nice outfit can go a long way.
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