Be grateful. Science says it’s good for your health!


Image courtesy of BK on Flickr

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.
—Melody Beattie

Thanksgiving—it’s one of my favorite times of the year. This has nothing to do with Pilgrims, and very little to do with football or parades. It does, however, have a lot to do with the word Thanksgiving—literally, giving thanks. For me, Thanksgiving is a reminder to pause and consider all of the things in my life that I’m grateful for—friends, family, opportunities… the list goes on.

While gratitude may be at the forefront this week, perhaps we should consider practicing it every week. According to a study from UC Davis, having a grateful outlook on life significantly increases health and well-being. This same research group has found that gratitude can decrease blood pressure and feelings of loneliness, and improve sleep quality, attention, and self-control. Not convinced? Check out the HappierHuman website for a summary of 31 ways that gratitude benefits your health and well-being, compiled from 40+ studies of gratitude.

A couple of years ago, SoulPancake decided to try out gratitude as an experiment within their Science of Happiness series. They had individuals come into their lab and complete a happiness test. Then, they asked the participants to write a letter to someone they were grateful for, expressing their gratitude. Finally, the participants were asked to call these individuals and read them the letter. At the end of the study, they took another happiness test. Overall, expressing gratitude produced a 4–19% increase in happiness, and the person who came in least happy had the greatest increase.


Image courtesy of BK on Flickr

So, what are some ways you can practice gratitude?

  1. Express it. Like the participants in the Science of Happiness study, you could write a letter to someone you care about. Let them know how much they mean to you. Better yet, call them or go see them in person. William Arthur Ward said, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” When you’re feeling grateful for someone, tell them—don’t keep it to yourself! You can make their day and benefit your own health at the same time. Obviously, there’s an app for that.
  2. Write it down. Keep a gratitude journal. At the beginning or end of your week, think about what you’re most grateful for and record it in your journal. That way, when you’re having a bad day, you can look back at your journal and remind yourself of the people and things you appreciate most.
  3. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness means paying attention, without judgment, to your thoughts, sensations, emotions, and the external world. Sometimes we go throughout our busy days without actually noticing what we’re doing, who we’re interacting with, or what the world around us looks like. When we start paying attention, we can live more authentically and express gratitude for what we have. Try adding this gratitude practice to your mindfulness routine.

Gratitude can do some pretty amazing things for your health, and it’s really easy to do. Use this Thanksgiving break to prioritize gratitude for the people, places, opportunities, and things you appreciate most.


Image courtesy of Sandra Marie on Flickr

Kaitlyn Brodar is the Program Assistant for Resiliency Initiatives at UNC Student Wellness and a Master of Public Health graduate student with a focus in Health Behavior at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. She previously worked in cognitive psychology research on post-traumatic stress disorder after earning her bachelor’s in Psychology at Duke University.

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