Here’s how one simple daily practice can change your life.
“I’ll be happier when….”
Fill in the blank. We’ve all said it. Many of us have reached the “when” — yet we never seem to reach contentment. We live in a world where busyness is praised, and mental illness, sickness, and insomnia are considered normal. We live in a world where “more” never seems to be enough.
What if the root of our discontent, unsatisfied, overly busy, and unhealthy lives is stemming from our lack of gratitude?
Gratitude can reverse our priorities to help us appreciate the people and things we do have rather than constantly spending our time and energy in pursuit of the things we don’t have.
You might think gratitude is a gimmicky wellness fad, but research shows that gratitude (defined as the practice of acknowledging the goodness in your life) can increase life satisfaction, happiness, and connection to something or someone outside of yourself — such as a higher power, a greater cause, or another person.
Let’s look at how consistently practicing gratitude can help you thrive in life, relationships, and health.
Expressing gratitude can reduce loneliness and depression
Scientists have long known that loneliness can impact health both emotionally and physically. As Europe's Journal of Psychology puts it, “loneliness typically manifests as spiritual emptiness, often accompanied by unhealthy emotions, such as dolefulness, helplessness, and depression, and, thus, significantly affects mental health.”
You can experience loneliness and depression despite having a life or social life that looks perfectly put together on the outside. Loneliness is more about our perception of the quality of our relationships and meaning in life — this is where gratitude comes in.
Research shows that practicing gratitude can help decrease feelings of loneliness and depression because it helps you change your perspective, connect more deeply with others, and fight feelings of emptiness. Gratitude is also closely related to your ability to give and receive. All of these factors are necessary for true connection, meaningful relationships, and overall well-being.
Expressing gratitude induces feelings of happiness
Over forty studies (and counting) have found that practicing gratitude is closely correlated with many different measures of happiness and Subjective Well-Being (SWB).
Psychology Today defines happiness as something more than a positive mood. Happiness has more to do with a state of well-being and living life with a sense of purpose and contentment, rather than fleeting feelings of joy.
People who practice gratitude regularly by listing their blessings (recounting), identifying and thinking about someone they are grateful for (reflecting), or writing gratitude letters (expressing) tend to pursue and obtain long-term happiness more often than people who do not.
What’s more, people who are happy and practice gratitude are typically more likely to set and achieve goals, have meaningful relationships, and appreciate the little things in life.
Expressing gratitude may improve your motivation
Although there is not enough research to say for sure, some research suggests gratitude will boost both self-motivation and prosocial motivation.
Gratitude has been heavily correlated with an increase in connectedness, humility, and a few negative states like indebtedness, guilt, and discomfort. These feelings and emotions propel individuals to improve themselves — leading to the motivation to take action and, with time, actually achieve self-improvement.
Research shows that gratitude is linked to multiple areas of success, and one study proved that people who practice gratitude perform physical exercise more than people who don’t.
Expressing gratitude may help you sleep better
Gratitude can help you sleep better and longer and improve daytime function — a natural result of improving your sleep quality.
This improvement in sleep is likely due to inviting positive pre-sleep thoughts and feelings of contentment, as many have trouble sleeping due to worry, anxiety, and other negative feelings and emotions.
Spending 10 to 15 minutes each night writing down or thinking about some things or people you are grateful for can be a helpful first step in improving your quality of sleep.
Expressing gratitude results in fewer reported health symptoms
More research is needed, but practicing gratitude may be the answer to your physical health issues — like aches and pains, heart health, and other common ailments.
Although research is not conclusive, it does seem that those who practice gratitude are more likely to take proactive measures with their health, exercise regularly, and engage in meaningful connections. In theory, all of these things should lead to better physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
Expressing gratitude strengthens relationships
This point goes hand in hand with our first point on loneliness. A big part of experiencing and having deep, meaningful relationships is in our perception of ourselves and of our relationships.
Gratitude can help you view yourself as worthy of good things because you realize those good things are from someone or something outside of yourself. As humans, we all desire to be seen, heard, and related to and gratitude allows for that exchange to happen.
Gratitude is also linked to satisfaction in relationships and, in turn, plays a large role in helping us build and maintain relationships over time.
Smarter Sweat takeaways
The benefits of exercising gratitude are both common sense and indicated by scientific research. Just remember, gratitude is more than an expression of momentary happiness: It’s a means to living a life of purpose, personal growth, health, and connection.
While gratitude leads to self-improvement and a bigger heart for others, gratitude can be uncomfortable to practice because it requires you to go beyond yourself and requires you to grow as an individual. Although it can be uncomfortable at times, gratitude is what leads to true happiness and satisfaction.
We hope that reading the research inspires you, too, to pursue a life of gratitude.
Further Resources for Gratitude
Book — “The Gratitude Project: How The Science of Thankfulness Can Rewire Our Brains for Resilience, Optimism, and the Greater Good”
Podcast — “Thankful: The Science of Gratitude” from Stuff To Blow Your Mind
By Ashley Pfantz
Ashley is the cofounder of Smarter Sweat, certified personal trainer and professional health and fitness coach. She also owns Pfancy Fitness, an individualized fitness, nourishment, and lifestyle coaching business where she coaches all of her clients remotely.
About Smarter Sweat
Smarter Sweat is a fitness company built from the ground up by fitness experts Amanda Capritto and Ashley Phantz. Amanda and Ashley are both dead-set on cutting through the clutter of the fitness industry and providing raw, real, utterly honest information about fitness and wellness.