There is an old saying about gratitude: If you never learn the language of gratitude, you’ll never be on speaking terms with happiness. These may be words of wisdom, but science actually validates this very notion. Recent research supports the neuroscience of gratitude, which quite simply means the power of positive thinking and feeling grateful translates to increased happiness and better health. Through varied studies, researchers have been able to measure participants’ levels of gratitude and happiness to find out how these factors influence mood, physical and mental health, and even people’s personal and social relationships. They discovered that gratitude provides immense benefits and can have a profound impact on health and quality of life. Gratitude can help you:
- express more positive emotions (e.g., optimism) rather than negative ones
- have more compassion and awareness for others in need
- feel less stress and have a calmer mind
- lead a more active lifestyle when in a positive state of mind
- improve sleep
- maintain a strong immune system with fewer reports of illness
- feel an overall sense of social connectedness and personal satisfaction
Wiseman Health Take-Home Advice
With so much evidence supporting the health benefits of gratitude, here are a few ways to help you cultivate gratitude in your own life:
- Quiet the mind: The foundation of manifesting gratitude is mindfulness and being present. Meditation is a great way to calm the mind and allow your mind to be less busy with random thoughts and thus allowing you to focus on the things that are important like gratitude. Here are some great smartphone apps that can help guide, teach, and explore the practice of meditation: Waking Up, Calm, and Headspace.
- Practice internally: When your mind is calm, begin by thinking about the people, the things, and the circumstances in your life that truly matter to you. Be mindful of how and why they are meaningful to you. Remind yourself that there is always something to be thankful for every day. Incorporating “gratitude practice” into your daily or weekly meditation routine is a great way to keep this skill honed. Along with general meditation and mindfulness, here are a couple of practice techniques for gratitude:
- Practice negative visualization: This is a Stoic technique embedded in ancient Roman philosophy. While the very notion of thinking of something negative or uncomfortable may seem counterintuitive to gratitude, the very practice of negative visualization is a powerful technique of turning pessimism into optimism and ultimately into gratitude. This contemplation can be done anytime and involves thinking and noting all the things that are of great importance to you (e.g., family and loved ones, pets, personal health, friendships, job, hobbies, etc.) and how you would feel if these ended and were taken away from you. This short practice is extremely powerful and paradoxically helps you to have a greater appreciation for what has meaning in your life and innately fosters gratitude for the important things in your life.
- The “Last Time” meditation technique: This is another Roman Stoic mindfulness technique that is similar to negative visualization. A Stoic philosopher once said, “Each day brings its own gifts”; however, what we often miss is that these gifts and moments are fleeting, and we often take them for granted. When we practice the “Last Time” meditation technique, we are simply being mindful that everything we do will have a “last time,” which helps us avoid taking things for granted. We will all have a last hug, a last drink of water, a last swim, a last movie, a last laugh, etc. Most of us don’t know when these last times will happen but contemplating this reality is good for the soul and engenders thankfulness and gratitude. Both negative visualization and last-time thinking can easily be incorporated into any daily or weekly meditation routine.
- Put gratitude into action externally: As you improve your internal dialogue with gratitude, make it a point to express this gratitude to the world around you. Gratitude has the power of compounded growth in that it can spread fast as other people naturally manifest their own gratitude when gratitude is expressed to them. There are so many ways to manifest this. Tell your friends or loved ones that you love them. Tell the people you work with how much you appreciate them. Compliment a stranger. Send a text message, call, or write a note or letter to express your gratitude. And it’s not just the people in our lives we should show gratitude but everything around us including animals and our natural environment — the trees, streams, flowers, etc. Show your appreciation by picking up a piece of trash next time you see one, plant and cultivate gardens and green spaces if possible, or simply stop and give gratitude to the view around you outside. Remember everything is one and the energy of gratitude can be expressed through all of nature.
- Make it routine: Keep a running gratitude list, or even a journal of the “last time” moments or thoughts, on your phone or someplace easily accessible to you such as your refrigerator. Having these words or lists in a place where your family can see them will perpetuate its growth. When something good happens, add it to the list. Also, never underestimate the value of saying “thank you,” the simple act of giving a hug, or even listening to people instead of talking. Listening and showing people you understand and are interested in them and what they are saying is a very powerful yet subtle form of gratitude. Cultivating gratitude takes practice and a conscious effort on your part; it has to be repeated and practiced until it becomes a part of how you interact with the world. Begin with the small daily gratitude exercises and build up to the ones that take more time. Soon, gratitude will become a natural daily expression of who you already are inside, and one that helps you and those around you become healthier and happier!
“Wear gratitude like a cloak, and it will feed every corner of your life.” – Rumi
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on December 21, 2016 and has since been updated.
In Praise of Gratitude. health.harvard.edu. Retrieved December 14, 2016 from http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/in-praise-of-gratitude
Robbins, O. The Neuroscience of Why Gratitude Makes Us Healthier. (2012, January 04). huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved December 13, 2016 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ocean-robbins/having-gratitude-_b_1073105.html
Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude. greatergood.berkely.edu. Retrieved December 13, 2016 from http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/expandinggratitude
Morin. A. 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude. (2015, April 03) psychologytoday.com. Retrieved December 14, 2016 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201504/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-gratitude