As we approach Thanksgiving, lists and memes surrounding the idea of expressing gratitude abound.
Many of the folks I know use social media as a way to enumerate their blessings throughout the month.
And that got me to thinking:
What, if any, are the measurable benefits to living in gratitude?
Does this practice really change us, and if so, how?
It turns out that counting your blessings makes you feel good in the moment, and brings true and lasting benefits.
Gratitude benefit #1: Better physical and mental health
First, and maybe most importantly, feelings of gratitude have a direct impact on your physical and psychological health.
A recent University of Illinois study – conducted among 962 Swiss adults – linked feelings of gratitude to healthy activities and better physical health (Hill PL et al. 2013).
Participants who had a more thankful disposition also showed stronger psychological health, engaged in more health-promoting activities, and displayed a greater willingness to seek medical care when it was needed.
Overall, gratitude was considered an excellent predictor for overall physical and psychological well-being.
Conversely, participants with fewer feelings of thanks tended to have poorer psychological health and to neglect medical care and self care.
Gratitude benefit #2: More and better sleep
It turns out that expressing your gratitude can lead to better sleep.
One study examined specific interventions for students who had trouble quieting their minds before sleep and reported frequent sleep disturbances (Digdon N et al. 2011).
The results showed that writing in a gratitude journal for just 15 minutes before bedtime helped to decrease worry and stress and led to longer and more restful sleep for participants.
Additional research suggests that even just thoughts of gratitude before sleep can result in better rest.
A University of Manchester in England study analyzed how feelings of thankfulness directly affected the quality of participants' sleep.
Over 400 adults of all ages – 40% with sleep disorders – completed questionnaires about their pre-sleep thoughts (including those of gratitude) and the quality and duration of their sleep (Wood AM et al. 2009).
The results showed that the counting of one's blessings before sleep led to a more positive attitude at bedtime, which in turn led to participants falling asleep faster, sleeping longer, and reporting better overall quality of sleep.
Most recently, a randomized, controlled clinical trial – conducted among 119 young British women – found that two weeks of practicing gratitude improved their sleep, lowered their blood pressure, and increased feelings of well-being and optimism (Jackowska M et al. 2015).
Gratitude benefit #3: Stronger relationships
In the ins and outs of your daily romantic relationship, you probably take small steps every day to please your partner.
These romantic gestures can result in a variety of feelings, often as gratitude or a feeling of indebtedness.
One fascinating study tested whether feelings of gratitude and indebtedness changed feelings between couples who'd been romantically involved for at least three months (Algoe SB et al. 2010).
A team led by Sara Algoe, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina asked 67 campus couples – ranging in age from 19 to 56 – to keep a journal for two weeks, keeping track of their own thoughtful actions and those of their partner.
They also logged their emotions and the overall health of their relationship from their perspective.
When the data was analyzed, the researchers could track a) whether a thoughtful act was recognized by the partner and b) if that act of thoughtfulness was acknowledged.
Ultimately, they asked whether couples were grateful, and how that gratitude affected their relationship.
While acts of kindness resulted in feelings of gratitude sometimes and indebtedness others, only kind acts that inspired gratitude had a positive residual effect for the health of the relationship.
And when those feelings of gratitude were expressed, both partners felt the relationship was healthier and stronger.
When these feelings of gratitude were noticed by the partner, the well-being of the relationship improved for both partners.
Showing and receiving thanks for those daily acts of kindness were strong predictors for future relationship strength.
5 quick ways to feel more grateful every day
Clearly, cultivating and maintaining a feeling of daily gratitude has huge personal and physical benefits.
Once the turkey is polished off and the holidays are over, here are a few quick tools to help count your own blessings, every day.
- Write a letter of thanks: Get in touch with your feelings of gratitude and share the wealth by penning a thank you letter. Just five minutes is all it takes to express your thanks and send it off as a positive surprise for the recipient and a quick reminder of gratitude for you.
- Keep a gratitude journal: You don't need anything fancy. Even a notepad by your bedside can help you capture the big and small positive experiences you have each day before heading off to sleep.
- Count your blessings, literally: Pick your own magic number spend just 15 minutes a week making a list of that week's unique and positive happenings.
- Meditate or pray: Peaceful time spent in quiet contemplation can help you to focus on the present moment without any negative judgment. Give a few minutes to a silent enumeration of your blessings.
- Keep a gratitude jar: Make small slips of paper and keep them by a large glass jar. Each time you catch yourself feeling thankful, write a few words and slip them in the jar and watch your blessings add up over days, weeks and months. You can even make re-reading these small notes an end-of-year ritual!
How do you count your blessings?
I'd love to learn more about your unique practices to cultivate gratitude in your daily life.
- Algoe, SB, Gable SL, Maisel NC. It's the little things: Everyday gratitude as a booster shot for romantic relationships. Personal Relationships, 17 (2010): 217–233.
- Bartlett MY, Condon P, Cruz J, Baumann J, Desteno D. Gratitude: prompting behaviours that build relationships. Cogn Emot. 2012;26(1):2-13. doi: 10.1080/02699931.2011.561297. Epub 2011 May 24.
- Digdon N, Koble A. Effects of Constructive Worry, Imagery Distraction, and Gratitude Interventions on Sleep Quality: A Pilot Trial. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Volume 3, Issue 2, pages 193–206, July 2011.
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- Martínez-Martí ML, Avia MD, Hernández-Lloreda MJ. The effects of counting blessings on subjective well-being: a gratitude intervention in a Spanish sample. Span J Psychol. 2010 Nov;13(2):886-96.
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