Want to feel happier, be healthier and even sleep better? Then start by showing appreciation for what you have.
For centuries, various customs and religions have required people to stop and give thanks for the blessings they perceive. It may seem quaint, but science is repeatedly proving that those who can feel grateful for the positives in their lives are generally healthier, more confident and happier.
Back in 2012, Dr Nancy Fagley from the psychology department at Rutgers University in America was the first to show how appreciation is directly linked to life satisfaction. Study participants even reported fewer aches and pains and feeling healthier than their less grateful study mates.
From this study Dr Fagley isolated a few general aspects of gratitude. Firstly, those who were more satisfied with their lives focused on what they have, rather than what they lack. Secondly, those who were most satisfied quite often “engaged in specific rituals designed to foster appreciation”.
An appointment with appreciation
Rites and traditions serve as cues to help us notice and appreciate the good in our lives. Too often we become accustomed to our circumstances and take them for granted. Having a ritual – an opportunity to express gratitude – refocuses our attention on the positives. The more you practise gratitude, the more naturally it will come, also during difficult times.
One option is to keep a gratitude journal. Not only will this remind you of the good things in life, you will also sleep better. According to research done by Canada’s MacEwan University, students who wrote in a gratitude journal for 15 minutes every evening worried less at bedtime and slept longer and better afterwards.
A boost to health and happiness
Scientists think that gratitude improves happiness by displacing negative emotions such as envy, frustration, regret and depression. After all, it’s difficult to feel both grateful and pessimistic at the same time.
Being in a positive mindset also prompts us to make decisions that secure our future, such as protecting our health by being active and eating wholesome food. So you can see how finding the good in life directly impacts your wellbeing.
There is also plenty of evidence that proves feeling grateful is the key to thriving after traumatic events and can give a person additional mental strength and self-confidence. Expressing gratitude suppresses the stress hormone, cortisol, while releasing the feel-good hormones, serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin.
Three tips to nurture gratitude
- Engage in rituals: This can range from writing in a gratitude journal every night to simply discussing things to be grateful for at dinner.
- Appreciate the here and now: The trick is to purposefully take moments to do so. Go on a walk somewhere pretty and appreciate it – actively encourage your mind to notice the beautiful weather or flowers. Alternatively, stop in the middle of your day and simply ask yourself to find one thing that you are grateful for at that very moment.
- Show gratitude to others: Thanking a friend or family member not only makes them feel good, but also makes you aware of the good people you have around you. This means we all have absolutely nothing to lose by simply being a little kinder.