Gratitude is one of the strengths and virtues that has been most heavily studied and linked to happiness. Gratitude helps you feel more positive emotions, relish positive experiences, enjoy better health, and deal with adversity — all of which play an important role in improving your body, mind and spirit.
This powerful impact on your whole health is reason enough to make gratitude part of your everyday routine. Researchers have found that no matter your current level of gratitude, it can be cultivated and increased with practice. One study from the University of Miami found that participants who wrote in a gratitude journal once a week were more optimistic and felt better about their lives compared to control groups who did not journal.
Get Started on Your Journey to Gratitude
Your journey to gratitude can start with one little step. Write a letter to a friend, family member or colleague that shares how grateful you are to have that person in your life. Recount special memories and explain what you're looking forward to doing together. Not only will this fill you with happiness, but it will spread those good feelings to others and strengthen your relationships.
When you're finished with your letter, send it. Or, better yet, make plans to spend time together and deliver it in person. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month. Research has found that the immediate impact of gratitude letters was powerful and benefits lasted for a month. And if the loved one you are most in need of connecting with has passed away, a letter can help express those feelings and manage your grief.
Find Real Connection With Others
Social media can connect us with others far away, but it can also be isolating. It can create unrealistic expectations about your own life and develop superficial relationships with others, ones that barely scratch the surface of real life. Instead, connect with friends and family offline. Make time to meet up in person for lunch or dinner and share all you're grateful for in your life. This connection can help fill up your body, mind and spirit and strengthen important relationships.
Express Gratitude Through Actions
Spending time helping others and volunteering out of altruism (selflessness) has been linked to happiness. When you think about it, altruism and gratitude complement one another quite well. One researcher found that students who performed five kind acts per week for six weeks experienced an increase in happiness. Another 2010 study asked participants to perform a daily kind act for 10 days and a second group to try something new. Both groups reported significantly higher life satisfaction scores at the end of only 10 days.
In other words, kindness makes you happy, and happiness makes you kind.
Kind acts and volunteerism don't have to cost a lot of time or money. Volunteer at your child's school, call a local shelter or connect with a cause that's important to your heart. Pay for the meal of the person behind you in line, or bring in your neighbor's trash cans on garbage days. Expressing your gratitude in any way results in the same impact: a big boost for your physical, emotional and spiritual health.
This material is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for examination, diagnosis and medical care provided by a licensed and qualified health professional. Please consult your physician before undertaking any form of medical treatment and/or adopting any exercise program or dietary guidelines. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.