Gratitude is the Secret to
Health & Happiness
Working on that "attitude of gratitude" right?
That's a saying we like to toss around, but something we rarely put it into practice. But what if I told you that the field of positive psychology has amassed almost 20 years of scientific study and evidence that proves that increased gratitude leads to more happiness, better health, more meaning in life, better relationships, and more? You'd listen up right?!
Today we're talking about the power of gratitude and how to harness that power in your own life. Gratefulness goes well beyond just being thankful when things go well. The challenge is finding things to be grateful for even when things are hard. Gratefulness is a not just a state of being thankful, its also a trait, it's the way you see the world. Cultivating more gratitude in your life isn't hard at all but it does require intention.
Full transcription available at the bottom of this post
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At this point, we have a solid 15 or 20 years of research, scientific, peer reviewed research on gratitude. And all of the research shows a direct correlation between the feelings and practice of gratitude, and overall happiness, well being, wellness and health. What does this mean for you? Well, when people told you to have an attitude of gratitude, they were right. I know, that's really easy to say. And it's a bit harder in practice. And it's even harder, when sometimes it feels like the walls are closing in on you. But today, we're gonna discuss the science of gratitude, why that is so important in your life, how it can work for you in your life, and how to cultivate this gratitude as a practice. So let's go.
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So when I was in graduate school for marriage and family therapy, we learned a lot about the field of positive psychology as a field under the general umbrella of psychology. Positive Psychology was kind of founded by a guy named Martin Seligman. He's kind of considered the father of positive psychology, so you can look it up. He's written great books, amazing books. And what he wanted to do was focus therapy, on resilience and on the positive. So I know when most of you think about going to therapy, right? You're thinking about, like, we got to rehash all these things that have happened. And we've got to talk about all these negative things and all this trauma and suffering and pain. And while that is a focus, and those things as a focus definitely have their place. Seligman found that balancing that with a focus on things like happiness and creating well being and creating a better life, having a balance between those two things actually produced better results for his clients and patients. So positive psychology in general is not just like, think more positive, like just be a more positive person that's not going to work. Have you ever been upset about something and someone tells you just smile and you're like, EFF off? I don't want to smile, right? That's not what we're talking about. That's not what positive psychology is. Positive Psychology is about helping people experience more positive emotions more often creating better relationships, engaging In and achieving in life and finding meaning in life, and so coupling that with that kind of therapy piece produce such better results. So it's no surprise that from the field of positive psychology, then comes all the studies about gratitude and how gratitude then relates to positive psychology and living a more meaningful, fulfilled life, relationships, etc.
So what is gratitude? Right? We throw this word around a lot, we talk about it a lot, you're supposed to, like do stuff, whether it's just like, feel gratitude. But what actually is that? Well, there's lots of different definitions. But in general, what we're talking about is two separate things. We're talking about a state of gratitude. So a state of gratitude would be that feeling of being appreciative that feeling of thankfulness. And then there is the trait of gratitude and the trait of gratitude is something within you. It is a predisposition that you have to feel gratitude. Gratitude is kind of your default setting. And so when we talk about gratitude, it's important to talk about those two parts of it. It's not just saying like, I'm thankful for this, and I appreciate that. It's also your tendency to have traits of gratitude that that's like your go to is to feel grateful gratitude can kind of be thought of as a worldview, where you're just more inclined to notice and appreciate the positive things in life. I call these people the bright ciders, right, I'm a bright-sider, I tend to find the lesson, I tend to find the thing I can learn, I can tend to find the thing that I can be grateful for, that I can be thankful for that I can appreciate, even in a totally sucky, horrible, crappy situation. Those are the bright ciders. And we are not all wired the same. Some of us are bright ciders and some of us are not. But the research is very clear that if you can shift towards being more of a bright side or more of a grateful trait, you will cultivate more happiness, wellbeing and health in your life. So let's talk about that.
I want to really go deep into the research because there is a lot of it. And it's so fascinating. So like I said, most of the gratitude research is new within like the last 1520 years. But here's what they're finding out. being thankful is a predictor of significantly lower risk of a range of mental health diagnoses, including major depression, generalized anxiety, phobias, nicotine dependence, alcohol dependence, drug abuser dependence, and the risk of eating disorders, especially bulimia. So being a more thankful person means you are less likely to have issue with or be diagnosed with any of those mental health disorders. They also found really interestingly, that gratitude was substantially lower in those who were suffering from PTSD. So they did a study on military vets who had come back from serving and those with lower gratitude, lower thankfulness were affected more by PTSD. And then they showed those people how to cultivate more gratitude how to create more gratitude as part of their healing process from PTSD. And they produced much better outcomes than those who did not learn gratitude as part of healing from PTSD. really fascinating stuff seems so simple, but it was so powerful.
The research also shows that gratitude seems to strengthen relationships and contribute to relationship connection and satisfaction. I mean, you don't need me to tell you this, right. Like, if you're nice and grateful for your spouse, your spouse will do more nice things for you. That's usually how this works, the more grateful I am for the little things that they might do, the more chance there is that they would continue to do those little things works for your kids to work for pretty much every relationship. You know this to be true in your own life. I'm sure some researchers have actually argued that gratitude also serves an evolutionary purpose. Because gratitude facilitates one humans tendency to cooperate with another human, especially a non family human. So the more grateful I am, the larger the trait of gratefulness I have, the more likely I am to cooperate with other people. Well, the more cooperation The more we can flourish as a species, right? grateful people were more likely in studies to help a stranger and gratefulness is shown to make you more outward focused than inward focused. And they also found that grateful people tended to have more humility. One really cool study that they did was on romantic partner so significant others and they had Have them complete a diary every night for two weeks. And in the diary, they recorded their own and their partner's thoughtful actions. So every night, they would write down all the things that they, they did really nicely for their spouse. And they also wrote down all the things that they felt their spouse did, that was really nice for them. So the researchers assumed that those who had greater levels of gratitude for their significant other would score higher on the outgoing tests and score higher and the measures of how they ranked their relationship as good or bad on a scale of one to 10. And they were right, those partners that were able to cultivate, or those two weeks more gratitude for their cells range, their relationship much higher on the one to 10 scale than the other couples. This is the funny thing about psychological research, right?
It seems like it's these things that we already know to be true. Like, if I'm nicer to my spouse, there'll be nicer to me than 10, we have a better relationship, duh. But it's really fun when they can actually like put it in black and white, put it into a study and show you very clearly like Yes, what you think is true is actually true. If you cultivate gratitude for those people you have relationships with your relationship will be better period, like scientifically proven, because what was happening in that study is that in those close relationships, the feelings that they cultivated of gratitude, were reminding them of the quality of their relationship, and the quality that they wanted out of that relationship. And it made the spouses feel closer to each other. So let's say for example, the wife is writing like my husband did the dishes tonight, and I was so grateful for that. And my emotion was happiness and thankfulness. It was reminding her of the things of the actions, the words that her husband was doing. And the more she was reminded of the nice things he was doing, the more grateful she felt, the better the relationship got. So it wasn't him reminding her like I did this nice thing. And that nice thing, right? She's reminding herself of the nice things he did all day, she then felt more grateful for him every single day, leading to a better relationship. And then conversely, it happened on the other side, too. I mean, so simple, right? So simple. But how many of us get so caught up in our day to day that we just forget to say thank you for all those little things, there are so many little things that people you're in relationship with are doing, that you could feel grateful for. Imagine if you reminded yourself of all of those things. Imagine if you acknowledged all of those things to the other person, how much that could improve that relationship, right? It's so simple, but it's just something that so many of us don't do often enough.
Now, here's some really interesting research they did about gratitude and actual health markers. And what they're finding is that gratitude is improving health markers, what they think primarily through reducing stress and improving sleep, which those two things go hand in hand to right if I reduce stress, I improve sleep. So if I increase gratitude, I reduce stress I improved sleep. So in the studies, those that score higher on gratitude measures also scored higher on sleep measures, they got better sleep. Gratitude itself has been shown to improve sleep quality, decrease the amount of time needed to fall asleep and increase sleep duration. And interestingly, they found that especially those who focused on gratitude right before bed, so they wrote down right before they went to bed, all the things they were grateful for doing that significantly improve their ability to fall asleep and stay asleep and get good sleep all night long. Just that simple act of focusing on gratitude right before they went to bed. Gratitude has also been found to result in better coping and management of disease and terminal illness, like cancer or HIV. And it contributes to a faster recovery from medical medical procedures or illnesses or injuries. They have shown that gratitude can create positive changes within your immune system functioning. Being in a state of gratitude improves your immune function. Okay, Need I say more? I don't, but I will. So gratitude is also associated with more positive health behavior. So if you are in more of a state of gratitude, you are less likely to feel pain, you are less likely to suffer from chronic pain, you are more likely to move your body you are more likely to exercise Isn't that interesting? Those who score higher on gratitude measures have a less likelihood of going to the doctor. They have lower blood pressure. They have less likelihood of Developing mental health disorders like we talked about before, scoring higher on gratitude measures equals better health across a number of areas. And interestingly, when you talk about longevity, right, I want to live a long, healthy life. I don't want to just live a long time, I want to live a long time and be healthy, that's longevity. Those who score higher on gratitude measures have increased longevity, they live longer, and they're happier while they do it.
So how do we increase gratitude? How do we feel more gratitude? How do we increase our state and our trait of gratitude? So when researchers study gratitude, and when they are giving gratitude measures when I say that what they're actually measuring is five major areas of gratitude. And they are this, they're measuring the span of gratitude. So that is the number of things that a person is grateful for, like overall, are you grateful in a day for like a couple things? Or are you the person who like takes the walk? And oh, my gosh, that flowers gorgeous. Oh, look, that bird. Oh, the sky and Oh, the weather's Amazing, right? Is that you? Or is it like, Oh, that's a cool looking bird. Right? So the span is what they're measuring the how many the number of things that a person is grateful for? They're also looking at frequency. So how often do you feel grateful? Are you feeling grateful for all the things all the time? Or are you like, oh, on Thanksgiving, we'll go around and say what we're grateful for. And that's pretty much the only way to do it. Right? The frequency, how often do you feel grateful? They're also looking at the intensity of your gratefulness. So how deep is your feeling of gratefulness? Are you so grateful? It brings you to tears? Or are you very surface grateful? like yeah, that's cool. So the intensity that you feel gratefulness and the last thing they look at is density. So density refers to like the layers of gratitude. So an example of this would be you go out to lunch, and your spouse is like, wow, that waiter was a really good waiter. And that's great. I'm really thankful for him, he did a good job. And the other spouse is like, Man, I'm like, so thankful for that waiter. He did such a good job. And oh my gosh, that chef in the kitchen, like, Wow, my meal was so delicious. And oh my gosh, that Buster was like so fast. I didn't even know he was here. I saw the people unloading, you know, the steaks in the back. And I'm so thankful for the truckers who truck The food here. That's your density of of gratefulness, the how many layers of gratefulness Do you have. So those are the four markers of gratefulness, that researchers are generally trying to measure for a person. So when someone measures high on a gratefulness scale, right, they're, they're measuring high on these four markers.
What they are finding is that those who have faith or religion of some sort, in their life, often score higher on those gratitude markers than other people, especially those of the Christian religion, because in the Christian religion, we believe in a faithful, a benevolent and intentional an ever present accessible God, a God that we can talk directly to. And the Bible is constantly telling us as Christians to give thanks in all things, and that our faith will be known by our love, gratefulness, it is be grateful to the Lord and breathe, be grateful in all things. And so because of that, Christians in general tend to have higher markers of gratitude. But also anyone who practices any kind of religion or as any kind of spiritual belief in something that's larger than them shows increased markers of gratitude in general.
So how then do you increase your markers of gratitude? How do you incorporate this into your life? How do you cultivate more gratitude into your life? Well, there's a lot of ways you can do it. But there's a few ways that really work. One of the ways is prayer. So no matter what religion or belief system that you have, however you pray, or meditate or whatever that looks like for you, that can be a very powerful way for you to connect to your gratitude. So for Christians, the very first thing we do what we're taught, the first thing to do when we pray is to give thanks, Thank You, Lord. So whenever you are praying or meditating or whatever, however it is that you talk to your higher power, start by giving thanks, and that's a super powerful way to just start cultivating more gratitude into your life, the other super duper and the most powerful way is journaling and there's a lot ways that you can do this, I'll give you some ideas about how you can do that. But they have done a lot of studies connecting gratitude and journaling and the power of that and what actually happens. And they have concluded that journaling is a very effective way to produce reliably higher levels of positive emotion, to improve wellbeing, and to increase measures of gratitude.
And so what they have found is that it only takes about five minutes a day, five minutes a day of a gratitude journal can increase your long term wellbeing by more than 10% so in studies, they found that keeping a gratitude journal caused participants in those studies to report 16% fewer physical symptoms 19% more time spent exercising 10% less physical pain 8% more sleep and 25% increased sleep quality. Isn't that amazing? The act of gratitude of writing in a gratitude journal showed up physically in their body, something that I was thinking about and writing down showed up physically in their bodies. That is amazing. This Mind Body connection is amazing. And it's something that we do not talk enough about. That's why I'm here. That's why we created the Healthy Mind Healthy Body Program. Because that connection needs to be made. Your thoughts and your feelings connecting to the functioning of your body, it is powerful, and there is study after study to back it up. So gratitude journaling becomes super powerful. They also found in studying those with depressive symptoms, or those with diagnosed with depression, that starting a gratitude journal for 30% of the people who did it, it actually lowered their depressive symptoms for as long as they continued the journal when they stopped. Some of their depression symptoms came back while they were journaling. 30% of the participants found that they had less depression.
So there's a lot of ways you can do it, right. So you can just have a notebook by your bed, you could do it for five minutes before you go to bed or when you wake up. Sometimes, for kids, I used to do things like a gratitude rock. And so they would hold this right it works for adults too. But you could hold the they would pick like a special rock I did rocks with kids because kids were like super into rocks. And they could hold this rock and they'd keep it in their pocket all day. And every time they put their hand in their pocket and they felt their rock, they would be reminded to think of something that they're grateful for. And so it was just like a physical reminder, it was a cue for them to Ooh, gratitude, sir, at the time they touched the rock, they would think of something they were grateful for. I've done with clients a gratitude jar. That's kind of fun, because you do just like an empty jar take slips of paper. And every day you commit to like three things, right? So I'm gonna write three slips of paper of something I'm grateful for, and stick it in the jar. What's cool about that one is on those days where you're having like, super crappy day, and you're like, I'm not grateful for anything, everything sucks. And everyone's horrible. You can go back to your jar, and you can like randomly pick out some strips, and you might oh my gosh, yeah, it was grateful for that I still am, I still am grateful for that thing, right, you can switch it for yourself by going back to some of the things that you already had written down.
One thing that I also used to encourage my clients to do and still do is to take a gratitude walk. So just go out on a walk. And as you're walking, just start to appreciate all the things that you see, I appreciate my quiet neighborhood. And I appreciate the leaves on the trees and the way the sun comes through them. It's so gorgeous. And oh my gosh, that flower looks amazing. It smells so good. And wow. You know, look at that dog. He's so cute, like, whatever it is. But as you go, you are thinking about all the things in your life that you're grateful for not just the things that you're physically seeing on your walk, but the things in your life. You're really being intentional about gratitude, even better. Take this walk with your significant other and while you're walking, talk about the things that you individually and together are grateful for what are you grateful for about in that other person? What what are you grateful for about the life that you've built together, do that with your significant other. There's something really powerful about intentional gratefulness and physical movement at the same time. Remember, we talked about our mind body connection here it is, again, connecting physical movement to intentional gratefulness can be incredibly powerful.
So there you have it, prayer or connecting to source connecting to your higher power, whatever that looks like for you. And journaling. Again, whatever that looks like for you. There's lots of ways that you can gratitude journal but those are the two most powerful ways to cultivate states and traits of gratitude in your life. And if you do that, you will start to notice a change in your perceptions, a change in your thoughts, a change in your emotions, even a physical change in your body that is so, so powerful. I hope that this podcast came to you at just the right time. We're in a state right now, where the world seems crazy. And I thought it was pretty timely to talk about something that you have control over. You have control over your state of gratitude, no matter what kind of crazy messed up awful things are happening in your life. And for a lot of us, there's a lot of things going on right now. But despite all of that, you can cultivate gratitude. And it will improve your emotional state, your psychological state and your physical state. So I encourage you to give it a try and let me know how it goes. I want to know I want some feedback. I'm going to put some links in the show notes. If you want to learn more about gratitude, positive psychology or the Healthy Mind Healthy Body Program
. All those links are going to be in the show notes. So just scroll on down and click on those if you want to learn more. I hope this was super helpful friends, and that you really got what you needed out of this until we talk again. Be well.