Why Gratitude is GREAT*

Jan 4, 2015 | Experts Corner

There are millions of reasons to feel grateful. Acknowledge them all, big and small, everyday. You just may put yourself on the path to better health.

Count your blessings, say “thank you.” Consider yourself lucky. These are directives our parents gave us so we would grow into decent people with decent manners. It turns out the same advice helps make our brains and bodies healthier, too. “There is a magnetic appeal to gratitude,” says Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and a pioneer of gratitude research. “It speaks to a need that’s deeply entrenched.” It’s as if we need to give thanks and be thanked, just as it’s important to feel respected and connected socially. When people appreciate the goodness that they’ve received, they feel compelled to give back. It’s easy, in these modern times, to forget this. We disconnect from others and suffer the consequence, such as loneliness, anger, or even a less robust immune system.

  • You’ll feel happier– In a seminal study by Emmons, subjects who wrote down one thing that they were grateful for everyday reported being 25 percent happier for a full six months after following this practice for just three weeks.
  • You’ll boost your energy levels. In Emmon’s gratitude journal studies, those who regularly wrote down things that they were thankful for consistently reported an ever-increasing sense of vitality.
  • You get healthier. A gratitude practice has also been associated with improved kidney function, reduced blood pressure and stress-hormone levels, and a stronger heart. Experts believe that the link comes from the tendency of grateful people to appreciate their health more than others do, which leads them to take better care of themselves.
  • You’ll be more resilient. When we notice kindness and other gifts we’ve benefited from, our brains become wired to seek out the positives in any situation, even dire ones. As a result, we’re better at bouncing back from loss and trauma.
  • You’ll improve your relationship. Christine Carter, a sociologist at the Great Good Science Center University of California, Berkeley, notes that gratitude can rewire our brains to appreciate the things in our relationships that are going well. It can calm down the nervous system and counter the fight-or-flight stress response.
  • You’ll be a nicer person. People can’t help but pay gratitude forward. When appreciation is expressed it triggers a biological response in the recipients brain, including a surge of the feel-good chemical dopamine, says Emmons.


*Article excerpts reprinted from: Real Simple Magazine; November 2014, pages 162-164.


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