From a young age, we're learn the importance of saying thank you. It's a universal lesson, taught across cultures, embedded in societal norms worldwide not least because gratitude is deeply rooted in the teachings of all major world religions. There must be something to it.
But as we grow up and get caught in the whirlwind of daily life, it's easy to lose a true feeling of gratitude. Our thank yous become habitual, mechanical, we begin to take what we have for granted, we slowly forget about gratitude.
That's a tremendous loss, both for society and the individual, because gratitude is a tremendously powerful way to improve your physical and mental health. Everyone can benefit from a gratitude practice. In this article, we will dive into the science behind gratitude and how you can make gratitude a regular habit again.
The Science Behind Gratitude
Gratitude is the conscious and positive emotion you feel when you're thankful for something or someone. It has long been studied by philosophers and scientists, who have discovered and recorded the many benefits that a simple gratitude practice can bring.
Gratitude significantly improves well-being in the sense that it both betters positive emotions while also reducing negative emotions. In fact, gratitude is a better predictor of well-being than the Big Five traits of extraversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness, openness, and agreeableness that constitute most of personality.
Gratitude is associated with better sleep, less fatigue, and lower inflammatory biomarkers. It improves relationships not just with the person you express gratitude to, but your overall relationships. It improves your coping mechanisms, makes you more altruistic, and gives you a better sense of purpose in life.
The list goes on. These are not small effects either. We're talking statistically significant movements in peer-reviewed scientific journals, shown over and over. The science behind gratitude is real.
How to Make Gratitude a Habit
Gratitude is what's called a prosocial behavior, or a behavior that benefits people and society as a whole. That's opposed to defensive behavior, or a behavior that shields the individual from others. Defensive behaviors generally dominate prosocial behaviors, which is why gratitude does not happen naturally to most people. It's why you need a gratitude practice.
The best way to practice gratitude is to integrate it into your daily life. Turn it into a habit that you do a particular way, in a particular place, at a particular time. It doesn't have to be complicated and it doesn't have to take long. A gratitude journal where you list three things you're grateful for every week is enough to already show many beneficial effects.
What's important is that your expression of gratitude should be genuine. Do not fake it; mean it. Lean into the emotion and savor it, because the stronger you feel it, the more powerful its effects.
If you're struggling to find something you're grateful for, practice negative visualization: Think about something you currently have as if you wouldn't have it. What if you wouldn't have your partner? What if you wouldn't have food? What if you wouldn't have a roof over your head? Then flip it around and be grateful that you do have it.
Your gratitude practice will also become easier if you adopt an abundance mindset as opposed to a scarcity mindset. With a scarcity mindset, you believe that resources and opportunities and success are limited. Life is a zero-sum game and the success of someone else reduces your own chances of success. You win when someone loses.
With an abundance mindset, you believe that resources and opportunities and success are plentiful. There is enough for everyone. Someone's win is not your loss, but proof that success is within reach for anyone. An abundance mindset encourages sharing and working together, and while you can cultivate it independently, it will also grow naturally along with your gratitude practice.
Different from other potent forms of self-intervention like meditation or high-intensity interval training, a gratitude practice doesn't take much time and effort. It can be a minute a day before you see its effects.
And the effects are nothing to be sniffed at: All the science shows that gratitude can steer your mental and physical health in the right direction. Learning how to practice and express gratitude is some of the lowest self-help fruit you can pluck. There's no reason not to do it.