What if there was a solution to stress so simple that it involved nothing more than feeling thankful for the good things in your life? In fact, there is. That solution is called gratitude.
Studies have shown that people who regularly practice feeling thankful have a leg up when it comes to their health. Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California at Davis, has been a leading researcher in this growing field, termed “positive psychology.” His research has found that those who adopt an “attitude of gratitude” as a permanent state of mind experience many health benefits.
Emmons’ findings, along with those from other researchers such as Lisa Aspinwall, a psychology professor at the University of Utah, suggest that grateful people may be more likely to:
- take better care of themselves physically and mentally
- engage in more protective health behaviors and maintenance
- get more regular exercise
- eat a healthier diet
- have improved mental alertness
- schedule regular physical examinations with their doctor
- cope better with stress and daily challenges
- feel happier and more optimistic
- avoid problematic physical symptoms
- have stronger immune systems
- maintain a brighter view of the future
Focus Attention Outward
Your attitude plays a large role in determining whether you can feel grateful in spite of life’s challenges. According to Emmons, gratitude is defined by your attitude towards both the outside world and yourself. He suggests that those who are more aware of the positives in their lives tend to focus their attention outside of themselves.
Be Mindful of What You Have
You may assume that those with more material possessions have more to be grateful for. However, research suggests otherwise. Edward Diener, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois, found that a high percentage of affluent people in Japan report low levels of life satisfaction, just as those living in poverty in India do. These findings suggest that it’s not how much you have, but how you feel about what you have that makes the difference.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Recording what you feel grateful for in a journal is a great way to give thanks on a regular basis. Emmons found that those who listed five things they felt grateful for in a weekly gratitude journal reported fewer health problems and greater optimism than those who didn’t. A second study suggests that daily writing led to a greater increase in gratitude than weekly writing.
Reframe Situations as Positive
It’s not actually a challenging situation that is upsetting. It’s how you perceive the situation. The next time you find yourself complaining about life’s hassles, see if you can mentally “flip the switch” to frame things differently. For example, rather than getting down about missing an opportunity, try to see the positive side. You might now have more time to direct towards other priorities.