Counting your blessings is a time-honored way to flourish. It’s been part of almost every culture and spiritual practice. Science has now proven what the ancients knew intuitively. Grateful people are likely to be much happier and healthier than their pessimistic counterparts.
The regular practice of gratitude produces impactful “side effects:”
- Better Attitudes. The middle school children who participated in the daily exercise of writing down the things they were grateful for showed higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, and energy. They were also more likely to think about school and their family life favorably.
- More Likely to Reach Goals. There is an increased likelihood of reaching all kinds of personal goals, including academic, personal growth, health-related, and relationship goals.
- Practice Healthy Lifestyle. People with grateful dispositions are more likely to adopt a healthy lifestyle, including exercising regularly, watching their weight, and doing what they can to support their health.
- More Connected to Others. When you’re excited about your own future and more content with your own life, you’re more likely to lend a hand to others. Those with the highest levels of happiness have strong, complex social networks and are more likely to feel loved and cared for by others. These include not only family and friends, but also connections of an altruistic and spiritual nature.
- Fewer Effects from Stress. Feelings of appreciation and gratitude result in cardiac coherence—the beat to beat variability of your heart rate. The result is a more perfect balance between the sympathetic nervous system (the gas) and the parasympathetic nervous system (the brake). When these are in balance, we can reverse the fight-or-flight response and our bodies will stop dumping cortisol and other stress hormones into our system. Cardiac coherence has also been shown to increase the production of the hormone DHEA, which is a building block for all the other steroid hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, and androgen.
- Better Health Over All. When your body is in a constant state of panic from stress or dragged down by negative emotions, you are more prone to headaches, muscle aches and pains, a weakened immune system, depression, and poor sleep. Long term, this unabated stress can create cellular inflammation, the root cause of all kinds of health conditions. Because of this, people who practice gratitude have fewer health problems.
Perhaps, best of all, if you cultivate an attitude of appreciation and gratitude, you will be more resilient when confronted by the inevitable setbacks of life. Happiness and joy are powerful forces of love that can minimize the effect of bad situations and negative emotions, such as anger, sadness, and jealousy.
Gratitude is simple. Just start by noticing the little things around you that you are grateful for: the ability to breathe freely, that your feet are comfortable, that your phone works, that your eyes are clear enough to read the print on your computer. Then you can graduate to the big stuff—stuff we often take for granted—like enough food to eat, a home, and family and friends. That will get your started.
Gratitude leads to joy and to being poised and centered. Count your blessings on a regular basis. They will multiply many, many times over.