Researchers have actually done studies on this, and the results indicate that thankfulness has an impact on wellness.
In one study, one group of participants was asked to write a few sentences each week about the things that they were grateful for. Another group was asked to write about daily irritations. A third was asked to just write about whatever affected them. After 10 weeks, the grateful writers were not only more optimistic and feeling better about their lives but also exercised more and had fewer health complaints.
What strikes me about that study is that the participants were randomly assigned to a group. Those who were living healthier lives were not necessarily more inclined to be grateful, they were just following directions.
How can being grateful improve your health? Maybe because it’s such a major stress buster. Stress destroys your health. It increases your likelihood of heart disease, induces aches and pains, and hinders your immune system. But one of the quickest ways to de-stress is to think about the things you are thankful for.
Focusing on the things that are going well and the people who are important to us can help change our perspective. We see that things may be better than we realized and that seems to help us to relax.
I’ll admit it’s not always as easy as it sounds. We focus on the problems because we want to find solutions. Things that are wrong tend to grab our attention because we want to fix them. It’s hard to ignore a crying baby. Sometimes, however, there is no solution or a problem can’t be fixed right away or you are so overwhelmed with negative emotions that you can’t figure it out.
But we can use gratitude as a tool to take better care of ourselves.
In the short term, it can work as a quick fix when you are feeling particularly stressed or depressed. It helps me if I make a list of five things I’m grateful for. This gives me a break from dealing with negative emotions, which helps me physically relax and find the mental space I need to figure out how to change things.
Over the long run, it can help to keep a gratitude journal or make time every week to purposefully review what you are thankful for. This helps to cultivate a positive attitude about life that helps you cope with whatever comes your way.