Numerous studies have demonstrated that prolonged stress can have devastating effects on one’s mental and physical health, manifesting itself in depression and anxiety. In this way, a negative mindset can lower one’s immune system, making an individual more susceptible to illness and discomfort. In fact, those with high levels of negative thinking are more likely to have problems sleeping, digestion issues, headaches, and body pain—not to mention, exacerbated feelings of stress and anxiety.
More recently, scientists have begun to look into whether the opposite is also true: does positivity yield positivity? Specifically, can feelings of gratitude improve other areas of our lives, like our health and happiness levels?
While much of this research is still in the early stages, or has not yet been peer reviewed, there is certainly evidence to suggest that individuals who are more grateful—or who actively focus on the areas of their lives in which they are grateful—can have a whole host of positive benefits as a result.
This one might seem like a no brainer. When we focus our attention on the things in our life that bring us joy and happiness, we appreciate them more. One of the biggest downfalls of relationships is when couples begin taking one another for granted, so it makes perfect sense that if we are consciously thankful for the qualities that we love about our partner, our relationships stay stronger, longer.
Another benefit to gratitude is being more productive, both in our personal and professional lives. Individuals who are more grateful—or who actively practice gratitude exercises—are able to better see and act on available opportunities, making them more creative and better at problem solving. Where gratitude can open up a world of possibility, by continually focusing on the negative, often all we can see are dead ends.
Getting a good night’s sleep is essential for one’s overarching wellbeing, and it appears as though practicing gratitude is a great way to make sure that your slumber is of high quality. Negative thoughts not only keep us from falling asleep, but they can leave us tossing and turning throughout the night. Studies have shown that actively thinking about the things we are grateful for can help us fall asleep faster, enjoy higher quality sleep overall, and feel more rested the following day.
Fewer Health Problems
In addition to a stronger immune system and less aches and pains, gratitude might also be good for your heart health. There have been a couple different research groups that displayed lower blood pressure and improved heart rate variability, just by writing down the things they were grateful for over the period of a few weeks (as opposed to writing more generally about the events of the day). This is particularly important as ailments like depression and insomnia can worsen heart problems.
While research is still ongoing, the initial results are very promising. It appears as though positivity can be self-perpetuating, and may improve our mental, emotional, and physical health. It all has to do with perspective and how we are focusing our attention. With something as simple as keeping a daily or weekly gratitude journal, we may soon realize a number of benefits in both our personal and professional lives.