With Thanksgiving weekend past, we may be thankful for leftover stuffing, but what becomes of the rest of the year when it comes to feeling gratitude? What does it truly mean to feel grateful? Studies have shown that expressing gratitude is actually associated with numerous health benefits for both emotional and physical well-being. We will outline them in this post in an effort to illustrate how important and beneficial it is to know our blessings and give thanks for them each day.
What is Gratitude?
Being grateful and feeling gratitude is the emotional and behavioural expression of acknowledging one’s blessings and feeling thankful for what they have in their lives at the present moment. It can be difficult to feel grateful during life’s hard times, but this is when it is most important. Regardless of circumstance, there is always something to be grateful for; shelter, a good meal, caring friends and family, or health. Gratitude can be expressed by overtly thanking the individuals in your life who bring you comfort or joy, or feeling profoundly blessed for the abundance in your life, whatever it may constitute, and acknowledging it within yourself.
Positive Attributes of Grateful Individuals
Grateful individuals tend to possess more pleasant dispositions and have more enriching interpersonal relationships. They are also more likely to offer their help to friends and family, and give charitably to the less fortunate. They are more likely to volunteer their time and enjoy the personal benefits of giving back to their communities, such as feelings of personal fulfillment. As well, grateful individuals are more optimistic in times of difficulty or crisis, helping them overcome adversity more effectively. They also have higher self-esteem and a history of personal accomplishment. There are many positive character attributes associated with being grateful which can ultimately foster stronger and more intimate relationships, leading to enhanced health and well-being.
The Health Benefits of Being Grateful
Expressing gratitude provides numerous health benefits to both emotional and physical health.
Benefits to Mental Health:
- Greater capacity for empathy
- Less irritability, anger, and aggressive behaviour
- Reduced risk of depression
- More resilience and effective coping strategies
- Higher tolerance for stress
- Better relationships and stronger support systems
- Less loneliness and isolation
- Increased positive emotions
- Increased productivity
These benefits foster high quality interpersonal relationships which can act as a buffer and source of comfort in times of adversity. It appears that being grateful encourages the formation of a support system that will in turn promote continued resiliency, optimism, and enhanced emotional well-being.
Benefits to Physical Health:
- Improved immune system functioning; less acute and chronic illness
- Better sleep habits and sleep quality
- Less physical pain and negative appraisal of physical pain
- Fewer stress-related illnesses
- Greater personal sense of well-being
- Increased energy
- Higher likelihood of exercise (thus reducing risk of disease)
- Increased longevity
The physical health benefits of gratitude also interact with each other to promote enhanced health and longevity.
We are all blessed in unique ways, but also in our shared gift of life. Like any other endeavour, fostering gratitude takes practice. In time, you will see it’s many benefits for yourself. A little ‘merci’ goes a long way…