In fact, there are many emerging studies from the field of neuroscience showing that shifting your focus to gratitude can help counter a negative outlook—which is notoriously bad for your health.
Things like fear and envy can induce unneeded stress and create a domino effect of issues for our well-being, both mentally and physically. Cultivating daily gratitude isn’t easy, but finding a way to feel consistently thankful can have hugely positive effects on your health and overall quality of life.
For example, in a 2002 report from Southern Methodist University comparing four studies about gratitude, there was a high correlation between the disposition of gratitude and experiencing more energy and vitality on both physical and psychological levels.1
The data showed that gratitude created the perception in the brain of having better physical and mental well-being, which, in turn, increased energy levels. Another study from the University of Kentucky that focused on positive emotions and early life and longevity found that there is reason to believe that gratitude can even help us live longer!2
What’s more, a practice of gratitude can help us feel more connected and inspired by our lives, ease any worry of comparing ourselves to others (a rampant issue in our social media world), and help us focus on the spirit of giving vs. receiving—a key to psychological health during the maddening months of the holidays.
Clearly, a shift in focus to gratitude can go a long way when it comes to your health and happiness. While it might seem like changing your outlook can be an impossible mountain to climb, taking a few small steps can help you become a little more grateful every day. Tiny shifts like these can amount to major feelings of joy and wellness, and at Hyperbiotics, we’re all about living the good life.
Here are some of our tips to improve your gratitude game.
Keep Track of What You’re Grateful for in Life
Researchers at the University of California at Davis found that those who kept a gratitude journal or a log of their thankfulness had a healthier and happier outlook than a group who wrote down things that bothered them daily. This study also demonstrated that those who kept gratitude journals improved their sleep, optimism, and satisfaction with life. A number of spouses of study participants even noticed that participant’s well-being increased simply from jotting down daily thoughts centered around thankfulness.3
It turns out that as little as five minutes a day spent writing down these thoughts can have a big impact on your quality of life, so we love and recommend the Five Minute Journal if you’re new to journal keeping. It makes it simple to fill in the blanks with each day’s appreciation, but any journal or book will work!
Not into writing and journal entries? Put up a whiteboard or chalkboard in your home and write inspiring quotes about gratitude or a few of the small but wonderful things that happened to you that day. A visual reminder can be an effective way for you to look at the bright side and feel abundant even when your days get tough.
If you notice only what everyone else has, it can be easy to miss the subtle fortunes in your own life. Subconsciously focusing on what we lack not only stops us from being open to new opportunities, but can feed our fears and leave us in a cycle of negative feelings. Whenever you find yourself endlessly scrolling your social feed, or envying your friend’s relationship or your neighbor’s perfect clothes, try to think of a positive element in your own life. Write about it in your journal, focus on being thankful for what you currently have, and notice how these comparisons slowly drift away from the forefront of your mind.
Live in the Moment
Even if you aren’t focused on your past lingering like a shadow, you are probably counting down the days to your next vacation or even thinking ahead to what’s next on your to-do list. How much of your day do you actually focus on the present? Any time your mind wanders anxiously to the past or future, consider practicing a simple meditation or repeat an affirmation to redirect your mind to a positive place in the here and now.
As you learn to control your thoughts, you’ll be able to slow down and live in the moment. This means that when you’re at the beach, rather than trying to snap the perfect Instagram picture, you can focus on feeling the sand between your toes, hearing the waves crash onto the shore and enjoying the beauty of the now (which is where all of life happens anyway).
Think About What You Can Give
When you focus on others, it often puts your own problems into perspective. Find a non-profit that you are passionate about, like your local food bank or humane society, and see how you can help those who are less fortunate. You can even surprise family and friends with simple acts of kindness, like writing a nice note or cleaning their house. At work, focusing on what you can give to your business or organization (instead of what you can get) can help you achieve your greatest accomplishments that come from a happy place. As you practice kindness and awareness in small ways, you’ll be smiling more and so will the people in your life!
Enjoy the Little Things
Gratitude is easy when you’re enjoying a day at the spa. If you want to feel grateful even on a rainy day at the office, simply start noticing the little blessings in your life. Work on becoming more mindful, which, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, means “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
In other words, mindfulness helps bring awareness to our thoughts—and when we’re aware of what we’re thinking, we can consciously decide which thoughts we want to believe and which we can easily let go of without self-judgement.
One method for becoming more mindful is to change your routine. Instead of driving to work, ride your bike. Cut down on Netflix and TV shows and read a good novel or soak in a bubble bath. Changing your surroundings will help you naturally notice more of the beautiful world around you.
Becoming more thankful can change your life, and the season of Thanksgiving is an ideal time to commit to a new practice of gratitude. As author Melody Beattie said, "Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity...it makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow."
1. Mccullough, M. E., Emmons, R. A., & Tsang, J. (2002). The grateful disposition: A conceptual and empirical topography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,82(1), 112-127.
2. Dewall, C. N., Lambert, N. M., Pond, R. S., Kashdan, T. B., & Fincham, F. D. (2011). A Grateful Heart is a Nonviolent Heart: Cross-Sectional, Experience Sampling, Longitudinal, and Experimental Evidence. Social Psychological and Personality Science,3(2), 232-240.
3. Emmons, R. A., & Mccullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology,84(2), 377-389.
Julie Hays is the Communications Director here at Hyperbiotics. Health writer and mama of two little girls, Julie's on a mission to empower others to live lives free of the microbial depletion many of us face today. For more ideas on how you can maximize wellness and benefit from the power of probiotics, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.