Life is not always easy, and some degree of venting can be therapeutic. However, if you find yourself complaining frequently, it can negatively impact your health in surprising ways. Fostering a sense of gratitude can improve both our physical and mental health.
Here are some reasons to consider being thankful on a more regular basis:
Gratitude Brings a Sense of Fulfillment
After a tough day, most of us know that there are ways to pick ourselves up temporarily. Treating ourselves to a glass of wine or sugary treat can provide some joy in the short term, but it does not lead to long-term happiness. Teaching ourselves to acknowledge and feel thankful has lasting positive effects that can inspire feelings of contentment and fulfillment.
Gratitude Improves Relationships
There is a significant connection between the quality of our health and our relationships with others. For example, if you are not effectively communicating with your spouse or partner, this unease can impact you physically. You may experience more headaches or feelings of stress and anxiety that can affect your immune system, not to mention your outlook on life. Try focusing on the good. What little things does your partner do that you appreciate? Try verbalizing all the things that you admire about them. Say thank you. Give compliments where compliments are due. Appreciating a loved one is one of the ways you can strengthen your relationship with them. When you focus your energy on the thoughtful (and sometimes invisible) things they do, it will strengthen your relationship, and may inspire your partner to act in turn. When they give you a compliment, accept it. Return the gesture. Try to make these positive exchanges a habit. It can lead to a stronger sense of belonging, greater intimacy, and increased trust, which can improve your well-being. Practicing gratitude in all relationships can lead to a calmer, happier you.
Gratitude Encourages Self-Care
Is the sky particularly beautiful today? Do the trees present a stunning silhouette across the horizon? Did your son or daughter put their crusty cereal bowl in the sink, instead of leaving it on the table for you to pick up? Take a moment to acknowledge both beauty and small acts of kindness. Consciously envision people who have made a positive impact in your life, or who have helped you in some way, either recently or a long time ago. People who are grateful for tangible and metaphorical things take better care of themselves. When you are feeling gratitude for what you have or what you have overcome, you are less likely to expose yourself to things that endanger your health.
Grateful individuals are also more likely to make healthy behaviors a part of their lifestyle. They make time for general check-ups. They exercise more, and make healthier choices about eating and drinking. All these things improve health.
Gratitude Eases Depression
Most people experience sadness or depression at some point in their lives. Some think that the best way to cope is to be alone and “out of the way.” This is rarely the case. Unless you are engaging in a healthy solitary activity such as running, painting, or gardening, solitude can exacerbate feelings of depression. If you find yourself sinking into depression, try practicing thankfulness. At the beginning of each day, make a physical or mental list of the things for which you are thankful. What is good in your life? As you go through your routine, pause mid-day and make another list. Acknowledge any positive thing that happened. Was traffic a little lighter? Did a coworker say something insightful or kind? Did you compliment anyone today? If not, try it. Gratitude can become a natural therapy. If your depression fails to abate or gets worse, check with your provider. Counseling or medications might be necessary, but they can work in tandem with gratitude.
Gratitude Helps You Sleep Better and Longer
Have you ever had trouble sleeping because of anxiety? Sometimes our heads are spinning with negative thoughts that can severely impact the amount of sleep we get. Insufficient sleep can lead to a myriad of health problems, or worsen ailments that may already be present. Try replacing your nighttime mental “list of things you need to do” with a mental list of things you love and things for which you are grateful. Instead of counting sheep or worries, count your blessings. Positive thinking just before you crawl underneath your blankets can help you sleep better.
Dr. Kelly Delahunty of Hudson Physicians shares her tips about appreciation for everyday tasks.
Respect the rhythms of nature
“I’ve been reading a lot about sleep and circadian rhythms. I’ve been paying a lot more attention to my own circadian rhythm as it relates to sleeping, eating and being active in a way that’s in balance. I’ve also begun to see all of the necessary chores of home and yard maintenance as a great opportunity for activity.
The stretching, bending, lifting and aerobic activity involved in all kinds of chores is a terrific way to be active. I’ve been more intentional about this activity, which has allowed me to appreciate my home, yard and gardens much more. I am more focused on appreciating the outdoors, the environment and the repeating cycles throughout nature, i.e. moon cycles, plant cycles, etc.”
Are you a stress eater? If you are going through a difficult time in your life, try your best not to replace feelings of stress with food. Overeating is not the answer, and can lead to a stomach ache, a negative self-image or in some cases, being overweight. Instead, try a plate full of gratitude. If you feel like overeating, go for a walk or do some stretching. Focus on what your body can do, not what it cannot do. Filling up on thankfulness has much more positive results!
Gratitude is A Habit Worth Adopting
Our health is important. If you are facing new or ongoing health challenges or lifestyle changes, practicing gratitude is a remedy that works. Studies have shown that adopting the practice of gratitude can lower LDL cholesterol, reduce blood pressure and decrease protein levels related to heart disease. Consult with your provider to learn more about the benefits, and how to best incorporate gratefullnessinto your established health plan.
How do you make it a habit? If you need some concrete tips, here are some ideas to help you start:
MAKE IT A RITUAL. At the same time each day, try journaling or drawing, keeping the focus on gratitude.
LISTMAKING. Create a list of things you are grateful for and review it each week or evening.
GET A GRATITUDE APP. Find an app to help prompt you each day.