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What is Gratitude? 5 Reasons Gratitude Improves Wellness - Happier Human
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What is Gratitude? 5 Reasons Gratitude Improves Wellness

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Gratitude is a lot of things.

Gratitude is a personality trait, a mood, and an emotion.

As an emotion, gratitude is a feeling of happiness that comes from appreciation. While in a grateful mood, grateful emotions are more likely be present.

Those with a more grateful personalities are more likely to experience grateful moods and emotions.

Gratitude is a core component of many religions. For example: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all encourage gratitude to others. (But especially towards God.)

From a secular perspective, gratitude is one of the most effective methods for increasing long-term life satisfaction.

Due to the hedonic treadmill, long-term changes in happiness are much harder to create than commonly thought.  Humans are  adaptable. This is often a good thing. But in terms of happiness, we adapt to our happy feelings, and good things don’t make us happy anymore.

One of the best ways to remind ourselves of the what makes us happy is through gratitude.

This post will show you everything you need to know about gratitude. What it is. Why it is important. What causes gratitude. How you can get more gratitude. How to express gratitude. And how to practice gratitude on a daily basis. All of this backed by the latest-and-greatest positive psychology studies on gratitude.

To jumpstart your new gratitude habit, I recommend The 90-Day Gratitude Journal: A Mindful Practice for a Lifetime of Happiness. It is a powerful tool for increasing your personal happiness through gratitude.

Don’t want to read the entire post? Jump to the section you desire.

What is Gratitude?

Colloquially, gratitude is an expression of thanks and appreciation. However, gratitude has its origins as a distinct emotion. Typically, the feeling lasts for only a few seconds, as a recognition of the intentional, beneficial actions of others.

Although it’s considered socially appropriate to show gratitude when due, the benefits of gratitude make that consideration irrelevant. The choice is simple feel gratitude and have a great happiness benefit.  Or feel ingratitude and experience nothing.

Dozens of studies have shown the same result – gratitude is like a skill. It can be trained. With practice and the right perspective, there will always be many things to be grateful for.

In addition to having three forms – emotion, mood, and personality, gratitude has four additional dimensions:

  • Intensity: The depth of the feeling, from a slight emotional tug to overflowing tears.
  • Frequency: The ease with which grateful feelings are elicited.
  • Span: The number of different things for which a person can be grateful for at the same time.
  • Density: The number of different people for which a person can be grateful for a single positive outcome.

For those with a highly grateful personality, the intensity of their grateful feelings has the highest correlation with well-being. For everyone else, the frequency of their grateful feelings is the most important for impacting well-being.

Want to get started right away with practicing gratitude?

If so, then check out our physical journal called “The 90-Day Gratitude Journal: A Mindful Practice for a Lifetime of Happiness.”

With this journal, you will build a powerful daily gratitude habit and re-discover all the great things that are already in your life.

Why is Gratitude Important?

Positive psychology researchers like Robert Emmons, Martin Seligman, Sonia Lyubomirsky and Barbara Frederickson have been defining the importance of gratitude in series of experiments since the late 1990s.

After thousands of studies with tens of thousands of total participants, it is no longer a question of “is gratitude important” . Now it is just a question of exactly what is important about gratitude.

Here is my take on why gratitude is important:

  1. It is the right thing to do. Showing gratitude to others when they do something kind for you is simply, “right”. ‘Nuff said.
  2. Gratitude makes you appreciate what you have. Not what you don’t have.
  3. Studies have shown that gratitude actually makes you healthier. Improving immune systems. Lowering blood pressure. Making people more likely to exercise and eat right. Improving sleep quality and quantity.
  4. Gratitude increases positive emotions. Joy, optimism, happiness, alertness, pleasure.
  5. Gratitude banishes negative emotions. When you gain positive emotions, they drive out the negative emotions. Your brain only has so much room for emotions.
  6. Showing gratitude makes you more social. More popular: generous, compassionate and forgiving.  And feel less lonely.

I am not going to reinvent the wheel here listing all the benefits of gratitude here. For a long and detailed list of everything that gratitude can do check out my guide to the benefits of gratitude below.

What Causes Gratitude?

A wide range of well-being measures correlate with gratitude.

The relationship works both ways. Those with a more grateful personality are better able to find satisfaction in life. But those who are already happy for other reasons will see the world through a rose-tinted perspective. Where there are many things to be grateful for.

The personality traits with the largest connections with gratitude are: agreeableness, spirituality, and conscientiousness.

On the other hand, materialism is negatively correlated with gratitude. The more wealthy one is or aspires to become, the more their materialism grows. This is turn causes a reduction in their gratitude and ability to savor. This is part of why wealth increases happiness, but only slightly so.

Learn what is gratitude, how to use a gratitude journal an be inspired by this gratitude quote from deepak chopra.

Different countries have different perspectives towards gratitude.  In America, only 20% of adults view gratitude as a constructive and useful emotion. Compare this to Europe’s 50%. It should be no surprise that Europeans are three times more likely to regularly experience the emotion of gratitude. It should also not surprise  that Europeans generally report more happiness than Americans.

(Only one out of every ten American reports regularly feeling gratitude.)

5 Reasons Gratitude Improves Wellness

So far, answering the question of ‘what is gratitude’ we have pretty clearly shown the large impact of gratitude on well-being.

But let’s make the point a little clearer showing some of the specific gratitude experiments and their impact on well-being

Specific gratitude studies show improvements in:

  1. Life satisfaction McCullough et al., 2002) (Watkins et al., 2003) (Peterson, Ruch, Beermann, Park, & Seligman, 2007) (Wood, Joseph, & Maltby, 2008) (Froh, Yurkewicz, et al., 2009) (Wood, Joseph, & Maltby, 2009)(Hill & Allemand, 2011)  (Sun & Kong, 2013) [23] (Kong et al., 2015)
  2.  Happiness (McCullough et al., 2002) (Watkins et al., 2003)
  3.  Optimism (McCullough et al., 2002) (Froh, Yurkewicz, et al., 2009)(Hill & Allemand, 2011)
  4. Hope (McCullough et al., 2002)
  5. Positive affect (mood) (McCullough et al., 2002) (Watkins et al., 2003) (Froh, Yurkewicz, et al., 2009) (Hill & Allemand, 2011) [55] (Sun & Kong, 2013)

The science behind gratitude making a huge impact on well-being is well grounded. However, there is a heated debate on why it has such an impact. (At least as ‘heated’ as any discussion between a bunch of research psychologists can get)

My personal belief is that each theory has some validity. It is like different blind people grabbing at an elephant. One feels the tail and thinks that is what an elephant is. Another the trunk. Another the foot. You need to combine all the ideas and pull back to get the big picture to see all the different ways that gratitude improves wellness.

Gratitude Theory 1: Gratitude delays hedonic adaptation

Hedonic adaptation is the idea that people quickly become used to pleasures (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005). For example, if you have your favorite meal every single night, it quickly stops being a pleasure and just another “normal” thing.

This theory states that feeling gratitude delays that adaptation. It makes the short-term positive feelings you get from your pleasures last longer because you think about how great it is have your favorite meal every night (or whatever you are grateful for) and therefore give you a bigger pleasure “bang for your buck”.

Gratitude Theory 2: Broaden and Build Theory

This theory states that all positive emotions work together to strengthen other positive emotions (Fredrickson, 2004).

For example, when you are in a grateful mood you are naturally inclined to engage in other positive activities. You are more likely to exercise, be creative and push boundaries.

These actions actively build your reserves of these positive emotions, in a way that is similar to building muscles. The more you engage in positive emotions the stronger and more resilient and stronger they get.

This building of stronger positive emotions then shorten the effects of negative emotions when times get tough.

Gratitude Theory 3: Gratitude cancels out the negative

This is not actually one theory of gratitude but a series of refinements of one generalized concept.

The generalized concept is that your brain only has so much room for emotions. Feel a bit of gratitude and joy and it begins to lessen the amounts of anxiety and depression you feel. Do enough of this and you get rid of the negative emotions entirely.

Positive emotions are incompatible with negative emotions and positive emotions can lessen the attention one pays to negative information (Garland et al., 2010)

When people think about gratitude they recast negative experiences in a more positive light and experience more positive emotion, both of which reduce the pain of negative emotions (Lambert, Fincham, & Stillman, 2012).

Gratitude Theory 4: Gratitude causes reassessment and self-improvement

Learn the benefits of gratitude and how to practice gratitude and be inspired by one of the best gratitude quotes from brene brown.

In some ways this theory seems similar to broaden and build to me, with its own unique quirks.

The idea is that gratitude does two things then you express gratitude. The first part is similar to broaden and build. Your gain positive emotions which make it more likely to make good decisions and lead to further self-improvement decisions. It does this by inducing positive emotions such as connectedness, joy, elevation and humility.

The second half of the equation is that gratitude also brings up some negative emotions, but in a way that is actually good. When you experience negative emotions like guilt, indebtedness, discomfort and fear through the lens of gratitude it actually motivates people to make changes to improve themselves for the better to get rid of those negative feelings (Lyubormirsky et al, 2017).

Gratitude Theory 5: Gratitude increases self-esteem

Another study found evidence that trait gratitude may have positive effects on well-being partially via its ability to increase self-esteem (Lin, 2015).

When a person feels grateful, they often view themselves as benefiting from another person’s generosity. This leads them to feel valued. Which in-turn increases self-esteem. Which finally leads to higher levels of psychological well-being.

Want to get started right away with practicing gratitude?

If so, then check out our physical journal called “The 90-Day Gratitude Journal: A Mindful Practice for a Lifetime of Happiness.”

With this journal, you will build a powerful daily gratitude habit and re-discover all the great things that are already in your life.

How Do You Express Gratitude?

Regardless of the reason’s gratitude improves wellness, it clearly does. So the final question you might have about gratitude is a simple, “how can I get me some of that!”

I get it!

So here are a few simple ideas on how you can express gratitude. You can do these things every day, once a week or even once a month. Studies have shown that the positive benefits from taking time to express gratitude can last up to a month.

35 Simple Ways to Express Gratitude

  1. Do the three good things gratitude exercise
  2. Notice the beauty in nature each day.
  3. Volunteer
  4. Show respect for others
  5. Meditate on the things you are grateful for
  6. Call your mom
  7. Write in a gratitude journal
  8. Stop complaining
  9. Fill out  gratitude worksheet
  10. Add a gratitude section to an existing bullet journal or diary.
  11. Go on a mindful walk
  12. Encourage others to see the positive side of things
  13. Think of the loved ones you will feed while you are cooking meals
  14. Engage in a random act of kindness
  15. Don’t pass judgement on others
  16. Tell someone how much you love and care for them.
  17. Smile
  18. Make a gratitude jar, box, garden, tree, etc. Which you use as a focus to think of things you are grateful for every day.
  19. Nurture your friendships
  20. When someone does you a kindness, reciprocate
  21. Thank the casual acquaintances in who make your life easier: uber drivers, shopkeepers, waitresses, pilots, nurses etc.
  22. Write a note to someone you have not seen in a long time
  23. Compliment others when they look good
  24. Pay it forward
  25. Embrace challenges as opportunities
  26. Make gratitude a habit you engage in naturally every day without thinking about it
  27. Write ‘thank you’ cards more often
  28. Laugh more often
  29. Read inspiring quotes and affirmations to get you into a positive mindset
  30. Share gratitude with others in tweet, Facebook post, etc.
  31. Be the change you want to see
  32. Live mindfully. Don’t worry so much about the past or future. Be grateful for the now.
  33. Take time to breathe
  34. Enjoy the small things
  35. Be grateful even for bad things. They help you improve yourself.

Want some ideas on what to write about in your gratitude journal, diary, bullet journal or “three good things” exercise. Here is an excellent post with some awesome gratitude prompts.

Here are a few simple ideas on how you can express gratitude. #gratitude #happiness #selfcare #selfhelp #selflove #inspiration #motivation #mentalhealth #confidence #selfimprovement
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