What if there were a solution to stress that involves nothing more than feeling thankful for the good things in your life? In fact, there is. That solution is called gratitude.
According to research, 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 doctors
- 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
With that list of benefits, who wouldn't want to try it? To get started giving thanks, consider integrating the following four steps into your daily life:
- Focus attention outward.
- Be mindful of what you have.
- Keep a gratitude journal.
- Reframe situations as positive.
1. 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 toward 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.
2. 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 reported 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 may make the difference.
3. 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.
4. 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.
Gratitude may have a positive impact on your behavior, emotional outlook, and even physical health. These four steps can help you actively practice gratitude to fully reap these benefits.