This Thanksgiving or holiday get-together, we invite you to practice this simple gratitude-cultivating practice with your loved ones: Before dinner, place five kernels of corn (or pennies, buttons, or even pebbles) at each place setting and set an empty basket in the middle of the table. Once everyone is seated, go around the table and give each person a turn to drop a token into the basket as they share one thing for which they are thankful. Keep going around the table until everyone has discarded all their tokens. This isn’t only an icebreaker or a hokey tradition, it may profoundly affect everyone at the table’s mental, emotional, and social well-being. A growing pool of research is supporting the finding that being grateful is great for us. Here are some amazing benefits of gratitude that scientists have discovered:
1) Gratitude Boosts Well-Being
Among many other studies with similar results, a 2011 study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology found that grateful adults have higher well-being than their ungrateful counterparts. This was true regardless of age, gender, marital status, or personality type. A study published this year in the Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine (JACM) also found that gratitude is linked to decreased symptoms of depression and increased feelings of happiness .
2) Gratitude Decreases Stress
The JACM study linked above also found that gratitude is correlated with reduced feelings of stress . In addition, research published in the Journal of Happiness Studies in 2015 found that people who consciously cultivated gratitude were less affected by daily stress than those who didn’t. It is well known that stress hormones wreak havoc on our bodies and minds, so gratitude exercises may be an essential part of a healthy lifestyle.
3) Gratitude Improves Sleep Quality
Studies published in the Journal of Health Psychology (2015) and Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being (2011) both linked gratitude-boosting practices, such as the corn kernel activity described above, to better sleep.
4) Gratitude Re-ignites Sense of Purpose
Feeling burnt out at work? For a 2011 study published in Educational Psychology researchers had school teachers regularly practice counting their blessings for several weeks in a row. The findings: participants benefited from increases in life satisfaction and sense of personal accomplishment as well as decreases in emotional exhaustion and sense of detachment .
5) Gratitude Strengthens Relationships
Gratitude is an integral feature of healthy relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin published a study in 2011 that found gratitude was part of a self-reinforcing upward spiral among couples. Partners feel grateful when their counterpart is responsive and puts effort into maintaining the relationship , and in turn, this sense of gratitude motivates them to reciprocate . Perhaps this effect underlies the finding of a 2008 study published in the Journal of Research in Personality that gratitude led to higher levels of perceived social support .
6) Gratitude Motivates Social Responsibility
In 2007, a study published in the Journal of Business Ethics found that more grateful corporate employees had a greater sense of responsibility about employee and societal issues . A 2010 study in Motivation and Emotion that focused on youth corroborated the finding that grateful people have a greater sense of social responsibility: the authors explain that feeling grateful may motivate young adults to give back to their neighborhood, community, and world . In turn, increased social integration enhanced these young adults’ feelings of gratitude . Much like the phenomenon described in close relationships above, this is another self-reinforcing upward spiral toward emotional and social well-being.
7) Gratitude Helps Us Overcome Ego
In yoga, the ego is a constant barrier. A 2014 study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science found that gratitude and humility go hand-in-hand . Researchers found that gratitude-enhancing exercises left participants less focused on themselves and more aware of the value of others.
8) Gratitude Facilitates Coping
In the challenging phases of life, gratitude may help us cope. The Journal of Happiness Studies published a study in 2013 that found that breast cancer patients who can scrape together feelings of gratitude tend to feel more positive emotions and less distress , and they tend to redirect the energy of trauma toward personal growth . Also, when the time comes to leave this life, gratitude may help us come to terms with the transition: Researchers who published a study in the European Journal of Ageing in 2011 explained that when people reexamined their life events through the lens of gratitude they developed the sense that their life had been well-lived and seemed to become less fearful of death .
This holiday season, challenge yourself to practice gratitude everyday. Keep a gratitude journal and notice the impact on your daily life. Write in the comments below about your own experiences of practicing gratitude. We love to hear from you!