Gratitude Part 3: Health benefits

The health benefits you can experience through gratitude can be amazing.

Have you ever heard others talk about gratitude, but you’re not really sure what it is? You’re not alone. In this series of Michigan State University Extension articles, we’re going to explore what gratitude is and ideas for including gratefulness in your life, how to write a gratitude letter, health benefits of gratitude and the differences between gratitude and thankfulness. In this article, we’re going to explore some health benefits of displaying gratitude.

So often we feel those benefits at the holidays, which is when we are most likely to desire opportunities to display our gratitude. However, to feel those health benefits all year long, we must practice gratitude throughout the year. According to Time Health, there are seven health benefits of gratitude that may surprise you:

  1. Gratitude can make you more patient. Research from Northeastern University has found that people who felt grateful for little, everyday things were more patient and better able to make sensible decisions compared to those who didn’t feel very gracious on a day-to-day basis.
  2. Gratitude might improve your relationship. According to a study in the Journal of Theoretical Social Psychology, feeling grateful toward your partner—and vice versa—can improve numerous aspects of your relationship, including feelings of connectedness and overall satisfaction as a couple. 
  3. Gratitude improves self-care. In a study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differencesresearchers asked people to rate their levels of gratitude, physical health and psychological health, as well as how likely they were to do wellbeing-boosting behaviors like exercise, healthy eating and going to the doctor. They found positive correlations between gratitude and each of these behaviors, suggesting that giving thanks helps people appreciate and care for their bodies.
  4. Gratitude can help you sleep. Research in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research has found that feeling grateful helps people sleep better and longer. 
  5. Gratitude may stop you from overeating. “Gratitude replenishes willpower,” says Susan Peirce Thompson, a cognitive scientist who specializes in the psychology of eating. The concept is similar to the Northeastern research that found a connection between gratitude and patience: Thompson says cultivating feelings of gratitude can boost your impulse control, helping you slow down and make better decisions. 
  6. Gratitude and help ease depression. Thompson says experiments have shown that people who partake in the “three good things” exercise—which, as the name suggests, prompts people to think of three good moments or things that happened that day—see considerable improvements in depression and overall happiness, sometimes in as little as a couple weeks. 
  7. Gratitude gives you happiness that lasts. Lots of things, from a compliment to a sugary treat, can bring little bursts of happiness. Instant gratification also goes away quickly, which leaves you craving more. Gratitude is a frame of mind that if you regularly take time to express gratitude, then you’re more likely to see results.

There are many ways to practice gratitude where you’ll see the health benefits. Explore “The benefits of practicing gratitude” by Kris Swartzendruber, MSU Extension educator, where you’ll see three examples of actions you can do to improve your mood and increase your overall happiness. Additionally, Karen Pace, MSU Extension educator, writes about “Practicing gratitude has positive impacts on our health and well-being,” where she outlines the mental and physical health benefits of practicing gratitude all year long.

Remember that the key to gratefulness is simple- it’s practice. The more you integrate gratefulness into your life, the easier and more routine it will become. It won’t take long for you to notice a change in yourself and others.

Michigan State University Extension offers programs such as Stress Less with Mindfulness and RELAX: Alternatives to Anger that focuses on using your mind to improve stress and chronic conditions. For more information, contact your local MSU Extension office.

Other articles in series

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