Inside the Surprising New Science of Gratitude

5 Proven Benefits of Thankfulness to Keep You Motivated all Year Long

It is easier to be thankful during Thanksgiving. The name alone inspires a sense of appreciation. Mix that general feeling with turkey, good wine, family, and friends and even the busiest, overworked American can find a reason to stop and be thankful. The challenge is maintaining a thankfulness habit throughout the year.

All too often, life gets in the way. Assignments need to be completed, employees need to be managed, and flights need to be caught. Presentations need to be given, equipment needs to be maintained, and reports need to be filed. On top of your more-than-full-time job, daily tasks affiliated with raising children, maintaining relationships, and keeping yourself sane have to somehow fit into your schedule.

It is easy to become so preoccupied with meeting goals and succeeding in life, that we forget to enjoy and appreciate the ride. A thankfulness habit is a natural remedy. Like most habits, it takes time and effort to establish. Recognizing the many benefits of thankfulness is key to prioritizing its development.

Thankfulness will not only make you happier, it will help you to achieve your very real goals. It will strengthen your relationships, help to maintain your health, and ultimately enable you to live a more productive life. You don’t have to take my word for it; the science of thankfulness is well documented. Here are five proven benefits of thankfulness to get you motivated.

1. Thankfulness combats stress

The many impacts of stress on our health are still being uncovered. We know it can be bad, but we’re not always sure just how bad. With every study, the severity and extent of this relationship deepen. Stress impacts the gut, decreases activity levels and can lead to irritable bowel syndrome. There is even evidence chronic stress can quicken cancer progression.

The good news is that thankfulness combats stress. According to Carolyn Youssef-Morgan, gratitude is the antidote to work stress. Gratitude has been linked to well being by too many studies to list. Positive reframing is one reason for the connection. When people practice gratitude they are more likely to see the good in challenging situations. They face adversity head-on. They find the silver lining. Positive reframing, and the thankfulness that helps us to achieve it, are powerful tools against stress. When you combat stress, you also avoid accompanying the health consequences.

2. Thankfulness builds emotional resilience

Thankfulness improves mood and can even conquer more than the run-of-the-mill blues. Studies with those who suffer from depression onset by chronic disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, and spinal cord injury have found that gratitude can help people to overcome even the most traumatic adversity.

This style of resistance can be applied to more than physical trauma and psychological disorders. Mental strength helps a person to keep fighting when the odds are against them. It helps us to do what is right thing even when it is hard. Resilience helps us to win the war, even when multiple battles have been lost. Professional success cannot be won without it.

3. Thankfulness fosters connections

Sororities are all about connections, but how do they cultivate them? One way is through gratitude. A 2008 study published in Emotion found that success rates of Big Sister Week, designed to solidify relationships between members, succeeded based on gratitude. Big sisters spent the period giving surprise gifts to assigned new recruits. At the end of the period of giving, matches were revealed. Little sister gratitude ratings, which corresponded more closely to how thoughtful they considered the gifts than how much they liked them, predicted the strength of their connection to their big sister and their feelings of integration in the sorority a month later.

Strong relationships and solid connections are paramount to a happy life. They are also often the cornerstone of professional success. Networking done correctly is fulfilling, enjoyable, and personal. Success doesn’t spark to life in a vacuum.

4. Thankfulness improves sleep

If you’ve ever gone without sleep, you know how important it is. Sleep helps us navigate the world. It allows us to think without thinking, unweaving the web of our day. It keeps us sharp and focused. Anything that improves sleep, improves us. Thankfulness is one such thing.

A 2009 study found that gratitude improves sleep duration and quality, even when controlling for personality traits that might influence sleep. A 2016 study turned to biology. Gratitude was correlated with better sleep and decreased blood pressure.

5. Thankfulness rewires your brain

You may have heard the phrase “neurons that fire together wire together.” Pathways that are used are strengthened. The stronger the pathways, the easier they are to access. Scientists have identified the parts of the cortex that are activated by thankfulness. They are involved in emotional processing. They also set off like firecrackers when activated by gratitude. These are two parts of the brain you want to wire with the pathways of positive emotions.

Though the many benefits of thankfulness are worthy of a significant investment of time and energy, the actual investment necessary is surprisingly low. A simple gratitude journal, where you write down five things you’re thankful for every night before bed, can do the trick. Thankfulness may change your lifestyle, but it doesn’t require a lifestyle change. A small dedication to positive change is all the investment you need.

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