Gratification: the Far-Reaching Benefits of Gratitude

We’ve all heard the old cliche about being grateful for the little things in life. But all too often we are overwhelmed with the Big Things. As we wrestle with the real, practical problems of daily life, gratitude may seem trivial and unimportant.

But the truth is that gratitude is an incredibly important experience, and incorporating it into our daily lives brings a host of practical, real-world benefits. Robert Emmons, Ph.D. is a professor of psychology at UC Davis who has devoted his life to studying the psychology of gratitude. His research shows that grateful people experience benefits in every aspect of their lives.

Physical benefits of gratitude include: • Stronger immune systems • Less bothered by aches and pains • Lower blood pressure • Exercise more and take better care of their health • Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking

Psychological benefits of gratitude include: • Higher levels of positive emotions • More alert, alive, and awake • More joy and pleasure • More optimism and happiness

Social benefits of gratitude include: • More helpful, generous, and compassionate • More forgiving • More outgoing • Feel less lonely and isolated

Emmons points out that practicing gratitude allows us to:

Celebrate the present. Gratitude focuses the thoughts on what we value, right now, in this moment. It doesn’t look to the past or the future, and doesn’t anticipate outcomes.

Block negative emotions. Sincere appreciation is incompatible with envy, regret, or resentment. Gratitude can reduce the frequency and duration of depressive episodes. Gratitude celebrates the positives in life, magnifying their significance and detracting from negative feelings.

Boost self-esteem. Experiencing and expressing gratefulness to the people around us generates positive emotions that reflect back to us. Emmons says that once we recognize how much other people value us, it helps us value ourselves more highly. Gratitude also has been proven to improve self-esteem by reducing social comparisons. If we stop comparing ourselves to others, we are better able to focus on and appreciate what we have and what we have to offer.

With so much to gain, it’s time to start incorporating a practice of gratitude into your daily life. There are many simple and effective ways to become a more grateful person.

Start a gratitude journal. Every day, write down 5 things you are grateful for. Take time to really appreciate each of those things, whether it’s a cozy bed or a healthy body or a hot cup of coffee. Think about sharing this list with a friend or loved one, where each of you write 5 things every day. Sharing your gratitude journal not only reinforces the practice, but it may help inspire new ideas and ensure consistency. And sharing your gratitude with a loved one deepens relationships and intimacy.

Write a letter. Once a week, write a note, letter, card, or email to thank someone. It might be a coworker who supported you that week, or an old boss or teacher who opened doors for you. It might be a friend or family member who helped you out in a rough time, or maybe just gave you a special memory. It might be a service worker who went above and beyond to meet your needs (in that case, include their boss). If the person isn’t with you any more, write it anyway, for the personal exercise in gratitude. But if you can reach them, send it to them. That way your gratitude practice doesn’t just benefit you, but can enrich someone else’s life as well.

Live in the present. Recognize people with gratitude in the moment. Say thank you to the person who holds the elevator, bags your groceries, or delivers your packages. Being grateful in the moment helps incorporate thankfulness into every aspect of your life, and not limit it to certain times.

A daily practice of gratitude makes you a healthier, happier person with a richer life and deeper social connections. And sharing your gratitude spreads positivity to the people around you, brightening moments in their day and making the world a better place. It’s amazing how something so small can have such big implications.