How Gratefulness Impacts You
Photo by Amadeo Valar on Unsplash
Written by: Sabrina Sourjah
Date Updated: 2/24/2021
Reviewed by: Patrick D. Randolph, Ph.D.
American theologian Albert Barnes said that “we can always find something to be thankful for.” But when we get wrapped up in life’s misfortunes and busy schedules, it’s hard to find the motivation to be grateful for every breath we take, our families, or the roof over our head.
Harvard Health defines gratefulness as the thankful appreciation for tangible and intangible gifts we have received in life. Thankfulness and gratitude refer to a similar sentiment of appreciating what one has. Positive psychology places significant emphasis on gratefulness for a fulfilled life.
Stages of Gratitude
According to Professor of Psychology at UC Davis, Robert Emmons, there are two stages of gratitude.
The first stage is when one appreciates what they have in their life and how fortunate they are. Individuals direct gratefulness internally and view their lives more positively in this stage.
In the second stage, one recognizes that their fortunes have been gifted by an external entity like a family member, friend, stranger, or universal power. One forges connections to the outside world and starts believing in something larger than themselves in this stage.
Impact of Gratefulness
1. Overall Health
Empirical evidence supports the existence of a connection between gratitude and overall well-being. When we express gratitude, dopamine and serotonin are released by our brains, making us feel “good.” This positive feeling can bring many health benefits, including low blood pressure and decreased inflammation.
Preliminary research suggests that grateful people may get better sleep, fewer aches & pains, and have healthier hearts. The Greater Good Science Center of the University of California conducted an experiment by getting participants to maintain an online gratitude journal for two weeks. Participants who used the gratitude journal witnessed fewer headaches, clearer skin, less stomach ache, and reduced congestion.
2. Surgery Outcomes
Recovering after surgery is a confusing experience. Some may have to depend on others for simple things like having a bath or changing clothes. Heart.org states that 25% of patients go into cardiac depression post-surgery. This can, in turn, slow down recovery and create complications. Grateful thinking can help manage your confusion and negative mood because thankfulness promotes a sense of well-being.
3. Mental Health
There is evidence supporting that gratefulness decreases depressive feelings. In another study on outpatient treatment of alcoholism, it was seen that web-based gratitude logging had a positive impact on alcohol use disorder. Psychologist Robert Emmons states that gratitude blocks toxic emotions like jealousy, resentment, and regret.
When you start to identify what’s working well in your life regularly, negative feelings slowly disappear. In a French research study of patients admitted to a psychiatric unit after suicide attempts or suicide ideation, researchers found that the group that kept a gratitude diary witnessed decreased psychological pain and hopelessness.
4. Life Satisfaction
Research in Applied Psychology found an increase in participant’s life satisfaction after a four-week gratitude contemplation. Life satisfaction has a connection with how we perceive our lives to be. When one is grateful and feels good about what they have, their perception is more favorable than an individual who complains about life and sees the lack in everything.
Gratefulness impacts physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction positively. Our relationships also benefit from gratefulness as people in our lives feel appreciated when we express our thankfulness. Individuals who have harnessed the power of gratefulness tend to live longer based on these positive impacts on their lives.
Access Gratefulness in Difficult Times
Although it’s hardest to feel grateful when you are going through a difficult time, this is when you need the benefits of gratefulness the most. Even when times are tough, you can access gratitude by making gratefulness a daily habit. Some of these habits include gratitude journaling, prayer, creating visual reminders, writing thank you notes, and meditation.
In what way has this healthy habit had a positive affect on your life either now or in the past?
What suggestions or words of encouragement do you have for us?