Life is so busy that it's sometimes hard to remember to do the simplest things, like packing a lunch to take to work the next day, or buying dog food before you run out. With all of the hustle and bustle, you probably don't find yourself telling your friends and family how much you appreciate them just because as often as you'd like. But when you consider how gratitude affects your health, it certainly makes the practice worth incorporating into your daily life. According to science, you'll probably notice a difference in both your mental health and your physical health.
A new study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that when nurses were thanked for doing the tasks they completed at work, they slept better, had fewer headaches, and ate healthier overall. The team of Portland State University researchers asked 146 nurses to fill out weekly surveys about their work experiences and their health for 12 weeks. Being shown gratitude in the workplace increased the nurses' overall job satisfaction, which also improved their physical health. As someone who has worked in the service industry, I can personally attest to how even the smallest kind word from a customer has the power to transform your entire day.
Incorporating gratitude into your life doesn't just change your attitude. It also literally changes the structure of your brain. "Gratitude works through neuroplasticity in creating new neural pathways that increases focus through the prefrontal cortex and lowers stress and fear by activating the 'emotional thermostat' called the amygdala," Margaret Stockley, RN ACWPE CWC RYT, founder of the Professional Organization for Wellness Certification, tells Elite Daily in an email. By increasing the activity levels in these key parts of the brain, Stockley explains, gratitude helps to improve your heart health, get along better with your SO, and just improve your overall well-being.
Do you have trouble passing on fun expenses like getting sushi with your friends or splurging on trendy skincare products? If you need help sticking to your weekly budget, you might be interested to learn that another surprising side effect of intentional gratitude is its effect on your decision-making abilities. A study published in the scientific journal Emotion looked at the relationship between participants' gratitude levels and their patience in making financial decisions, and found that the more grateful someone felt, the more likely they were to be able to show self-control about spending money.
To start reaping the benefits of gratitude, holistic wellness coach Alexandra Elle suggests first addressing the parts of your life that might make it difficult for you to feel grateful. She recommends spending some time each week working through whatever negativity has been bugging you. “Write down the lies — the negative self-talk, self-doubt — and then combat that with what you know to be true," she recommends. The simple act of writing down these thoughts and affirmations can help you deal with the negativity in a healthy way, she tells Elite Daily, so that you don't ignore it until it takes over your life.
While self-gratitude is a great way to improve your own physical and mental health, showing gratitude to the people in your life can really positively affect them, as was the case with the nurses study. I've personally been trying to implement what I call "Thankfulness Thursday," which sounds very cheesy, but has actually become a wonderful part of my life. I set a reminder to reach out to one person in my life every Thursday to check in and thank them for something I love about them. While my BFFs and family members seem to really appreciate being appreciated, I've noticed that showing gratitude to others seems to improve my mental health just as much as showing myself gratitude does.
If you want to bring a gratitude practice into your own daily routine, the Grateful app is an awesome way to keep a gratitude journal on-the-go. The app, which you can find for free on the App Store (the premium version costs $4 and offers features like a passcode lock), offers daily prompts to bring you into a thankfulness mindset. Just set aside a few minutes of your lunch break to calm your mind and write a quick entry about all of the little moments that have made your day good. You can even insert a photo of the adorable poodle you saw on your walk to work, or the completed to-do list you were able to power through.