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If there’s something I’ve learnt during this period of global restraint, it’s the benefits of gratitude.
A number of things, or lack thereof, have made me realise that I don’t need as many things as I previously thought I do. I am learning every day that the attitude of gratitude is a pre-requisite of better relationships, a happier life.
What’s fascinating is that gratitude can lead to better physical health.
A few days after the lockdown was imposed here in the UK, my washing machine packed up!
We had to wash our clothes by hand because no one would come to repair the machine due to fear of spreading you know what. There were many new washing machines for sale, but they could only be delivered the door without installation.
I usually ‘Google’ a lot of things, but “how to install a washing machine” is not high on my list of things to research!
My first thought could have been to complain about my lack, but living without certain of life’s luxuries has been a sure way of me learning to be grateful for what I have.
Gratitude turns what we have into enough ~ Aesop
Before we discuss the fascinating benefits of gratitude, here is a short introduction to gratitude.
What Is Gratitude?
Gratitude is defined as “the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful”. It involves accepting what is. Accepting ‘what is’ does not mean that everything is perfect. Indeed, life comes with ups and downs; peaks and troughs.
Having a heart of gratitude does not ignore the negative occurrences in life, but enables us to identify and focus on good things.
When we actively seek things to be grateful for, we will see more things to be grateful for daily.
Robert Emmons, a scientific expert on gratitude, argues that gratitude has two components.
The first is that gratitude is an affirmation of goodness. There are good things in the world available to each and every one of us, and we all can partake in receiving gifts and benefits.
The second part of gratitude is acknowledging that the source of goodness comes from outside of ourselves. This could be gifts and blessings from other people, and even from a higher power – for those who are spiritual.
Some people keep a gratitude journal, but it may not be necessary for the inherently grateful amongst us.
Gratitude Comes Easily… Or Does it?
Gratitude seems to be easy for some people, and not so easy for others.
It may seem like an impossible feat to be grateful whilst in your current situation when you feel isolated from your friends and life as you used to know it.
You may be surrounded by active toddlers, demanding teenagers, and let’s not forget, a husband or partner with needs to be met. Also, throw in demands from left, right and centre which require your monetary contributions!
It can be easy with all of the above going on not to see the positives and count your blessings.
I have to admit that when my children were very young until a couple of years ago, I was not always grateful. I generally saw the negatives; from racism across the globe to financial worries, to being ‘stuck at home with the kids‘ while my husband went out freely and ‘willy-nilly’.
My mind was a train wreck waiting to happen.
Then it happened!
I had a nervous breakdown as a result of depression, stress, and burnout. A lack of gratitude can be thrown in the mix too.
Eventually, I began to learn about some of the benefits of practising gratitude. I began keeping a gratitude journal to remind me of the good gifts I had in my life. The more I sought things to be grateful for, the more I began to notice more goodness and benefits in my life.
The point of airing my business is to emphasise the fact that attitudes can be learnt. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is learning to be grateful for the little as well as the big things in life!
Life is 10% how things happen and 90% how you take it ~ Anonymous
Without further ado, below are some fascinating benefits of having an attitude of gratitude.
Benefits of Gratitude
Gratitude Improves Well-being
Gratitude is a loop that keeps on flowing; the more grateful you become, the more things worthy of gratitude you will find. The more things you find that are worthy of gratitude, the more grateful you become. Get it?
Many people think if only I receive that job or promotion that I applied for I would be happier.
Whilst having a stupendous amount of money in your bank account is desirable, this on its own will not make you happy.
Sure, money is a necessity. Do you need food? Money gets you some food. Do you need shelter? Money is the means of obtaining shelter. Yes, money answereth all things, however, true happiness comes from within and gratitude helps you achieve inner happiness.
Gratitude Lowers Blood Pressure
I know right?! Fascinating!
Paul Mills, a professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, conducted a study with 186 men and women. These people already had some damage to their heart, caused by conditions such as high blood pressure, heart attacks and infections of the heart.
The study found that the more grateful people were, the healthier they were. They had fewer experiences of depression, fatigue, and they had better quality sleep.
Practising gratitude has been proven to improve heart rhythm, reduce heart inflammation, and lower blood pressure.
Gratitude Reduces Chronic Pain
While Doctors may not be able to prescribe gratitude as medication for pain, being grateful can help to alleviate symptoms of chronic pain.
One study on the gratitude-health link showed that adults who practised gratitude reported fewer physical health problems.
Another study indicated that 16% of the patients who kept a gratitude journal reported reduced pain symptoms and were more willing to work out and cooperate with the treatment procedure.
It was found that gratitude regulates the level of dopamine, which consequently reduces subjective feelings of pain.
Gratitude Increases Life Span
People who are grateful have been found to take better care of themselves. They tend to participate in healthy behaviours such as exercise, healthy diet, and regular check ups with their Doctor.
The fact that gratitude can help with reducing levels of stress, contributes to longer life span.
According to one study, happy people live an average of 10 years longer than pessimists and have a 77% lower risk of heart disease.
Gratitude Increases Energy
Have you ever taken note of how you feel after a negative episode in your life such as, say, an argument with someone? What about when you experience positive or even neutral occurrences?
I don’t know about you but negativity saps my energy!
When you feel gratitude, this will increase the neurotransmitter dopamine – the brain’s ‘feel-good’ chemical. This, in turn, will increase your energy and allow you to feel more content and motivated to work towards your goals. Working towards your goals will make you more productive and motivated to continue.
Gratitude will help you to focus on the positive things you have, instead of mentally pursuing things you don’t already have.
Gratitude Increases Self-Esteem
Studies have shown that gratitude reduces social comparisons. Basically, when you practise gratitude you’re more likely to focus on the goodness in your life and on your accomplishments, and less likely to feel jealous of other people’s accomplishments.
Having gratitude helps you to focus on the positives in your life. You begin to see your self for who and what you are; divine, joyful, blessed, privileged (insert your adjective here!).
This helps to improve your self-esteem, which in turn, helps improve your level of gratitude.
Gratitude Improves Sleep
Now how does gratitude improve sleep? You may wonder. I know. I wondered this myself!
Practising gratitude rewires the brain by increasing the production of dopamine and serotonin. Both dopamine and serotonin are two neurotransmitters that play important roles in your brain and gut.
Dopamine regulates mood and muscle movement and plays a vital role in the brain’s pleasure and reward systems. Whilst Serotonin, a chemical produced by nerve cells, helps regulate mood, body temperature, and appetite.
An imbalance in your levels of either one can have effects on your mental health, digestion, and sleep cycle. There are no clear ways to measure serotonin and dopamine levels.
It is not yet clear how they work to affect a lot of the same parts of the body, however, an imbalance in the levels of both dopamine and serotonin are known to affect mental health, digestion, and the sleep cycle.
I hope you will agree with me that these benefits of gratitude are truly fascinating!
The act of consciously practising gratitude can become a habit of your everyday routine, leading to more positive thinking, a healthier existence, and increased life span.
Do share your thoughts in the comments below on your gratitude practice.
Do you keep a gratitude journal? What tools do you use to remind you of what you are grateful for?
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Please share this post if you found it useful, and stay uplifted.