The Easy, Life-Giving Power of Gratitude

Researchers are affirming that giving thanks has the power to improve our health and our happiness

The Easy, Life-Giving Power of Gratitude
Mike Donghia

Research into gratitude has skyrocketed in the past 10 years, finding that a daily gratitude habit can have an enduring positive effect on our mental health, happiness, and physical well-being.

An article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology from 2003 looked at three different studies in which participants were asked to write down what they were grateful for on a weekly or daily basis. Consistently, those groups reported greater well-being than control groups, across a number of dimensions.
In another study, published in Personality and Individual Differences in 2013, researchers found that an individual’s gratitude as measured in surveys was a very strong predictor of physical health.
A study published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2019 reported that participants who were asked to write daily gratitude lists for two weeks showed a remarkable change. "The gratitude intervention managed to increase positive affect, subjective happiness and life satisfaction, and reduce negative affect and depression symptoms," the authors reported.

Cultivating Gratitude

Here are some practical ways to start cultivating the often underrated virtue of gratitude.

Start a Gratitude Journal

One of the most time-tested ways of cultivating the gratitude habit is daily practice. Designate a certain time each day to write down a few things you are grateful for. These can be big or small. The key is to begin focusing your attention on the positive aspects of your life that you aren’t fully savoring.

If You Feel Grateful, Say It

Too often, we feel grateful for something someone did, or simply the kind of person they are, but we don’t tell them. Maybe we’re afraid it will come across as strange or weird in a world where such compliments are rare. But deep down, most people treasure these words and will remember them for a long time.

Be Mindful of Your Blessings

Mindfulness and gratitude go hand in hand. There are likely dozens of good things in your life that you aren’t fully appreciating because you take them for granted. Two examples in my own life are good health and restful sleep. I never seem to realize their value until they are temporarily taken from me. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Don’t Dwell on the Negatives

In a way, this tip is simply the inverse of gratitude. Gratitude is the art of noticing and savoring what is good in life and directing that thankfulness to someone or something. We also have to avoid filling our mind with all the ways in which life isn’t exactly what we want it to be, or else this lens will become our default way of viewing every situation.

Live Generously

It might not seem obvious in today’s “everyone-for-themselves” world, but one of the surest ways to become happier and more grateful is to invest more into the lives of others. Living generously and sharing our blessings has a way of shifting our perspectives so that the small inconveniences of life seem less important in comparison. Volunteering is a great way to be generous, but so are stepping out to help a neighbor and reaching out to someone you know is facing struggles.

Take Pride in Small Victories

Ambition is a praiseworthy quality when it’s harnessed for good, but it can leave some people forever unsatisfied. Don't get so focused on the future and so intent on achievements that you completely lose the ability to celebrate the small wins and enjoy the journey along the way.

The Lasting Effect of Gratitude

By embracing the practice of gratitude, you aren't only building a better life for yourself, but you're also improving the world around you. Don’t underestimate the effect that a single kind word can have on someone’s day or even their whole year. Grateful people are quick to notice the good in others and point it out. That’s the power of gratitude in action.
If gratitude came easily, you would already be doing it, but for many of us, it isn't our default way of thinking. At one level, that's a reflection of our culture. We are bombarded by messages that tell us to want more, be better, or dislike those who have what we don't. It's become normal to focus on what’s bothering us and complain about what isn't good enough in our lives. Thankfully, it’s never too late to change this.

There’s no secret formula to becoming a more grateful person; it's just a choice you make over and over. For many people, one of the most powerful ways to begin is simply reflecting on what they have to be grateful for as a regular daily habit.

Start your gratitude journey today and enjoy the amazing benefits—and then spread those benefits out to those around you.

Mike (and his wife, Mollie) blog at This Evergreen Home where they share their experience with living simply, intentionally, and relationally in this modern world. You can follow along by subscribing to their twice-weekly newsletter.
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