Contributor: Linda Roszak Burton
To learn more about Linda, click here.
“…there’s a gratitude circuit in your brain, badly in need of a workout. Strengthening that circuit brings the power to elevate your physical and mental health, boost happiness, improve sleep, and help you feel more connected to other people.” – The Upward Spiral, Alex Kolb, PhD.
Research shows benefits to health and well-being for individuals when practicing gratitude. These positive outcomes will make you stand up and take notice - regardless of your professional role as a provider, caretaker, leader, or an individual contributor.
With the birth of positive psychology, the growing research on gratitude, and the latest studies in neuroscience, we have a greater understanding of how to achieve these benefits. It has become evident to many that gratitude is an important, timely topic, both in clinical settings and in our day-to-day interactions.
What is gratitude exactly? The Latin root of the word gratitude is gratus or gratia — thankful, by favor. It’s considered a state of mind, a spontaneous feeling, a strength of the heart. And, as the great Roman philosopher Cicero once said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.”
What does the research tell us? Studies range from the positive impact of gratitude on patients’ recovery from an acute cardiac event to lessening of depressive symptoms and to overall improvements in mental and emotional well-being. Here’s what some of the research is revealing:
Improved heart health:
Research out of Massachusetts General Hospital by Dr. Jeffrey Huffman, suggests positive psychological states, like optimism and gratitude, may independently predict superior cardiovascular health.
- The GRACE (Gratitude Research in Acute Coronary Events) project looks to determine whether optimism and gratitude are associated with physical activity and other critical outcomes in the six months following an acute coronary event.
- A 2015 study by the American Psychological Association found that patients who kept gratitude journals for eight weeks showed reductions in levels of several inflammatory biomarkers while they wrote.
- Research out of Massachusetts General Hospital by Dr. Jeffrey Huffman, suggests positive psychological states, like optimism and gratitude, may independently predict superior cardiovascular health.
Resilience to trauma and greater mental well-being:
- A 2006 study published in Behaviour Research and Therapy found Vietnam War veterans with high levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Stats Show Improved Mental Health - Recently published, the Journal of Research in Personality examined gratitude and grit to confer resiliency to suicide by increasing meaning in life.
- Emotional Well-Being - A 2007 study published in the Journal of Research in Personality found the relationship between gratitude and well-being leads to lower stress and depression and higher levels of social support.
Overall health and well-being:
- A 2003 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found participants who kept gratitude journals reported fewer health complaints, more time exercising, and fewer symptoms of physical illness.
- Proven Stress Reduction - Results of a study on cultivating appreciation and other positive emotions showed lower levels of stress hormones. The study found a 23% reduction in cortisol and 100 % increase in DHEA/DHEAS levels.
- Improves Quality of Sleep – A 2009 study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, showed improved quality of sleep and longer sleep hours.
Improved workplace results:
- A grateful leader yields more productive employees: a study reported by Harvard Medical School and done by researchers at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania found grateful leaders motivated employees to become more productive. The study found employees who were thanked by their managers made 50% more fund-raising calls than their counterparts who hadn't heard the same token of appreciation.
- Research on gratitude and appreciation demonstrates that when employees feel valued, they have high job satisfaction, engage in productive relationships, are motivated to do their best and work towards achieving the company’s goals.
The research doesn’t stop here and certainly needs to be continued. In fact, additional research has branched out to other areas, including school curricula to improve classroom culture and experience the benefits. Even so, there’s an existence of a gratitude gap, as indicated in a 2012 national gratitude survey commissioned by the John Templeton Foundation. While 90% of respondents consider themselves grateful, only 52 percent of women and 44 percent of the men surveyed express gratitude on a regular basis. The same study discovered that people were less likely to express gratitude at work, yet eager for their boss to express gratitude for their work. And, in return, the respondents indicated they would feel better about themselves and work harder!
How do we practice gratitude? Besides the suggestions listed below, it’s important to note that gratitude is often directed inwardly, to the self. As important, is expressing gratitude to others, which is proving to provide benefits to both the giver and receiver. Care should be taken to never allow gratitude to be about something you have that someone else doesn’t. Gratitude practice isn’t a competitive sport.
Possible practice techniques (hint – be as specific as you can in expressing gratitude):
- Keep a gratitude journal.
- Not the journaling type? Write a list of all the things in your life that you’re grateful for.
- Write a list of all the people in your life that you’re grateful for… then go tell them or go to the next item.
- Write a letter of gratitude to someone, deliver it to them, and read it to them.
- Write down three good things that went well in your day and why.
- Create visual reminders about the things and people in your life that you’re grateful for, and place them in your line of sight.
- Have you recently received a thank you note? Consider starting a wall of gratitude a (bulletin board will work) to remind yourself of the good things you do for others.
- Get a gratitude buddy to help sustain your gratitude practice.
In closing, in a world where negativity, fear, and skepticism are at an all-time high, there remains a human need, perhaps a demand, to count our blessings, show gratitude to others, and find meaning in our daily lives.