Health is often thought of as physical. When in reality everything starts in the mind.
Anyone suffering from depression or anxiety will know how difficult it is to make healthy choices. It can feel as though life is spiralling in the wrong direction. The good news is that there is a simple practice that anyone can do to turn things around. Or at least reboot life, so that life is flowing in the right direction again.
Mounting scientific research shows that regular practice of gratitude offers a multitude of physical and mental health benefits. We all know how nice it is to feel appreciated for our actions. In essence, that is what gratitude is – showing appreciation for the blessings we have in our lives.
We all have a lot of things to be grateful for, but it’s easy to take them for granted.
In this article, we’ll explore the scientifically proven health benefits of gratitude, as well as quick and easy steps that you can take to practice gratitude today.
What is Gratitude?
“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” – Oprah Winfrey
In Latin, the word “gratitude” is gratia, which translates as “grace”. The word grace is defined as “smoothness and elegance of movement” and “courteous goodwill.”
Which is interesting, as volunteering (which is an act of courteous goodwill and giving) has been found to counteract anxiety, anger and stress, increase self-confidence, and offer a sense of purpose. As well as bringing fun and fulfilment into your life.
The Latin phrase “gratus animus,” often translated as grateful when broken down, literally – gratus translates to – grateful, agreeable, pleasing, acceptable and welcome. Animus translates as – heart, mind, affections, purpose and feeling.
Related: Related: Which Foods to Eat and Avoid for Better Mental Health
Gratitude is powerful, as it can change how we view the world. Which can help us live a thriving, fulfilling life. If you think of the opposite: rudeness, inconsiderate or thoughtless. Then you can begin to see the domino effect that our thoughts and actions can have on our lives.
These are not terms associated with health. These negative attitudes can cause people to turn against us, making life intolerable.
Effects of Gratitude on the Brain
One 2016 study of patients who were entering therapy for anxiety or depression analysed their brain activities with an fMRI neuroimaging scanner, before they took part in a gratitude expression experiment, where they wrote letters of gratitude for three months.
The control group was given therapy as usual, and not advised to perform the gratitude writing.
To quantify the experiment, subjects in both groups were given money and asked to “Pay It Forward” to a charitable cause. They found that the participants who were performing the gratitude writing had a lasting “neural sensitivity to gratitude.”
This meant that those who performed the gratitude practice were more willing to give money to charitable causes.
After three months, the gratitude group was scanned again and the researchers found lasting positive alterations in their prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain used for decision-making, planning and judgment.
Therefore, if we begin to practice gratitude, we’ll make better choices and be more kind. This sort of simple intervention can impact all areas of our lives.
Gratitude Practice Leads to Fewer Doctor Visits
A study on gratitude was published by Dr. Robert A Emmons of the University of California and Dr. Michael E McCullough of the University of Miami. They split their participants into two groups.
One group was instructed to write a few sentences about daily irritations, while a second was to write about things that had happened during the week that they were grateful for.
After 10 weeks the group who had been writing words of gratitude had fewer visits to the doctor and felt optimistic about their lives when compared to the group that focused on aspects of their lives that displeased them.
In another study by Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, 411 people were instructed to write about early memories.
When they were asked to write and personally deliver a letter of sincere gratitude to a person who had impacted their lives, and had never been properly thanked, the participants quickly showed elevated happiness scores.
The benefits of this practice were shown to last for a whole month.
These studies indicate a strong correlation between practicing gratitude and well-being.
Gratitude and Relationships
We all know that it’s nice for our partners or friends to appreciate what we do for them. So it’s no surprise that studies of couples who expressed feelings of gratitude for each other felt more positive toward their partner.
They were also happier to share their feelings. Both of these outcomes are essential for happy relationships, and as such, we should take time to tell people how much they mean to us.
How does this impact our health and wellbeing? In the first instance, social and psychological well-being is just as important as physical health, and can have a tremendous impact on our ability to enjoy life.
6 Ways to Start a Gratitude Practice
Now that you know about some of the mounting science around the subject of gratitude and health, it’s time to start a gratitude practice of your own.
Your approach will be unique to your own preferences. However, here are some ideas on how to bring gratitude into your life.
Start a Gratitude Journal
Write out 5 or 10 things that you are grateful for each day, or week.
Start a Gratitude Jar
Wash out a jar and write what you are grateful for and why on a slip of paper and place it in your jar. You can do this every day or week. If you want to multiply the effects of this practice, get your whole family involved.
Write a thank you letter
Send a thank-you note to someone every month to share your appreciation for them. You can even send yourself a thank you note every now and then.
Mentally thank someone
Think about a person that you appreciate and thank them mentally for how they have impacted your life.
A traditional way to practice gratitude is to pray. This is ideal for people who are religious.
Take time to quiet your mind, meditate and be thankful for all of the blessings in your life.
The Bottom Line
We often overlook the impact that our thoughts can have on our health and wellbeing. This can lead to issues that can easily be altered by changing our outlook.
Starting a gratitude practice can change your perspective on life for the better. Why not try and practice gratitude for 30 days and see how it impacts your life?
The act of writing or talking out loud amplifies the effect of your gratitude practice. Pick one of the practices above and do it for 30 full days. The results might just surprise you.
Written by best-selling author and integrative nutrition health coach Rowanna Watson, who has a passion for natural health. Rowanna is an expert in all areas of holistic health, plant-based nutrition, detoxification and personal development.
Water for Health Ltd began trading in 2007 with the goal of positively affecting the lives of many. We still retain that mission because we believe that proper hydration and nutrition can make a massive difference to people’s health and quality of life. Click here to find out more.
If we start to practice gratitude, we’ll make better choices and be more kind. This sort of simple intervention can impact all areas of our lives.