The poet Rumi once wrote, “Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life.”
Being grateful for what you have, instead of worrying about what you don’t have is one of the crucial ingredients of happiness.
Gratitude is one of the most empowering feelings human beings can experience. No other emotion has such a profound and transformative effect on all aspects of life – and now we have the science to prove it.
Science behind gratitude
According to a study by the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, cultivating gratitude causes chemical changes in the brain and promotes feelings of happiness.
Robert Emmons, an American psychologist and the world’s leading expert on gratitude, and Mike McCullough, Professor of Psychology at the University of Miami, studied three groups of participants over a period of 10 weeks.
One-third of the study subjects were asked to keep a daily journal and write down all the things they were grateful for.
Another third also kept a journal but, instead of expressing gratitude, they would write down things that had made them frustrated or angry during the day.
Finally, the third group of participants simply recorded daily events, without favoring either positive or negative reactions.
At the end of the study, the researchers asked participants about their general outlook on life as well as their physical wellbeing. It turned out that the members of the gratitude group felt 25% happier than the participants in the other two groups.
People who practiced gratitude also exercised 1.5 hours more than those in the other two groups, which further increased their wellbeing.
Health benefits of gratitude
Practicing gratitude has beneficial consequences for both physical and mental health. One study found that participants who kept a gratitude journal had lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers and a more stable blood pressure than those who never practiced gratitude.
A grateful attitude has also been found to improve sleep quality. Patients with sleep disorders who practice gratitude report fewer negative and more positive thoughts prior to bedtime. Having positive thoughts before going to bed is associated with longer periods of sounder sleep and fewer awakenings.
Gratitude minimizes negative emotions such as envy and serves as an effective coping strategy against stress and anxiety. Research on how gratitude affects envy shows that gratitude and envy are at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. Grateful people tend to focus more on how others affect them positively instead of envying others.
Once you start practicing gratitude, you’ll notice that other people react more positively to your presence. Gratitude will help you improve your self-esteem and develop a more positive outlook on life. As a result, it will make your existing relationships stronger and open doors for new ones.
How to practice gratitude
There are a number of ways you can practice gratitude on a daily basis. While simply thinking grateful thoughts can help you develop a more positive mindset over time, it’s better to put down your feelings on paper.
Keeping a gratitude journal can be a transformative experience and it’s much easier than you think. Start by writing down all the things that make you grateful to be alive.
Your list doesn’t have to be long and it’s perfectly fine if you don’t update it every single day. It’s better to let the journaling practice evolve naturally until it becomes a habit.
Keep in mind that gratitude isn’t just about extraordinary happenings or incredible strokes of luck. Try to focus on being grateful for the little things and you will soon notice a big improvement in your overall sense of well-being and satisfaction with life.
Finally, don’t forget to express gratitude to others. It’s easy to take for granted people who are closest to us, so make sure you tell them frequently just how grateful you are to have them in your life.