The Science Behind “Gratitude” and How it can Make Your Life Happier
Gratitude is the emotional state of being thankful for the tangible and intangible things in one’s life. It acknowledges the goodness present in our lives. Similarly, it is an appreciation and recognition of a generous act of kindness, of which one has been a beneficiary.
The modern, fast-paced world keeps us on our toes and rarely allows us to breathe, let alone feel and express gratitude. We spend our lives boxed in tiny offices, working ourselves to death, desiring more money, fame, and recognition.
We seldom have the time or energy to appreciate the cooked food on the plate, the clean clothes in our cupboard, or the person who patiently listens and offers a shoulder to cry on. This makes gratitude an all-important mental state today. Our desire to practice it affects our well-being.
Renowned American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you and to give thanks continuously. All things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
Why should we practice gratitude?
Practicing gratitude every day makes us appreciate mundane things that we don’t otherwise notice. It makes us sit up and take notice of that beautiful red dress gathering dust inside the cupboard, or the sweet puppy we meet every day en route to our office. When we feel grateful for the privileges already there in our lives – we live more intentionally and feel motivated to be our best selves every day. Gratitude has the potential to mend relationships. We feel guilty when we fail to live up to someone’s expectations. By showing gratitude to the person we let down, we could purge ourselves from the shame. In this way, showing gratitude can be cathartic.
Scientific benefits of showing ‘Gratitude‘
All the major world religions like Christianity, Islam, and Judaism have long emphasized the need to show gratitude. Gratitude has long been associated with spirituality and theology. But modern psychology and research, too, make a strong case for the benefits of showing gratitude. Here are some of them:
- Enhanced physical and mental wellbeing- Practicing daily gratitude lowers the body’s cortisol levels, reduces inflammation, and thereby, lowers stress. It strengthens our immune system, helps us get more restful sleep and enhances overall physical wellbeing. Similarly, practicing gratitude regularly improves our mental well-being. Research has shown that sufferers of chronic anxiety and depression can greatly keep their symptoms in check by practicing gratitude and appreciating small wins and joys. Gratitude makes us less irritated and more motivated to achieve our goals and aspirations. It makes people more open to tackling challenging tasks.
- Strengthening interpersonal relationships – Since gratitude directly influences and improves our mental wellbeing, it also makes us more patient and accepting. These qualities are directly responsible for deeper connections with our loved ones. When we are less stressed and in a pleasant mood, we are more available and attentive in conversations. We are willing to listen, understand, and empathise, qualities crucial to building lifelong bonds.
- Increased self-esteem- Research has shown that regularly practicing gratitude increases self-esteem. Jealousy often reduces our self-esteem. When we practice gratitude, we stop resenting other people for the money or influence they have and start seeing their achievements and accomplishments. This, in turn, stops us from comparing ourselves to others and makes us more confident in what we do ourselves.
- Better self-control- Practicing gratitude makes us happier and more content. This often provides us with the resolve we need to stick to healthier choices and focus on our goals. We quit binge-eating, smoking and drinking, and successfully stick to our resolve. We also quit impulse buying, a common trait self-soothing tactic seen in depressed people. This overall benefits us physically, emotionally and financially.
How do we practice gratitude?
German theologian Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” That is the power of gratitude. But to use it effectively, we must know how to practice gratitude. Here are some ways we could make gratitude a part of our daily life:
- Being able to say “thank you” more often is an effective yet powerful way to express gratitude more often. If we remain mindful to include this phrase more often in our vocabulary, we could express gratitude without making any extra effort.
- Gratitude journaling is another effective way to practice gratitude. The best way to do it is by being creative and making it as colourful and inviting as possible. This would be our journal motivation daily. Noting down small acts of kindness; like your spouse offering you a backrub, or a random person offering you help; keeps our gratitude journal from being boring or repetitive.
- Maya Angelou said, “When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.” Being grateful for our privileges and wanting to give back to those not as lucky as us can also be a social act of gratitude.
Volunteering at non-profits once in a while can make us connect with people from different strata of society, and assisting them makes us empathetic and understanding, and helps us appreciate everything in life.
The bottom line
Today, the way we live and the world has drastically changed due to a deadly pandemic. A virus jumping continents and infecting people en masse has inflicted upon us one of the most primal fears: the fear of death. This uncertainty has forced us to live life more intentionally and be our best selves every day.
In the chaos of lockdowns, food shortage, and people stranded away from home, we learned to be grateful for our existence, all thanks to a virus. Our families and friends became our crisis management systems, and their presence made our lives bearable. We felt gratitude for being able to live with our families and did everything in our hands to keep them safe. We started seeing the difference that people we mostly take for granted make in our lives. As John F. Kennedy says, “We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.”