If you have on your wish list to be grateful this Thanksgiving, it’s likely, if you express gratitude beyond the holiday and into your routine, that you will benefit your overall happiness and unintendedly promote positive actions from others. How? There are at least 4 major benefits to being grateful, all which can promote positivity, optimism, strengthen relationships and help you pay it forward.
Here are the 4 major benefits to being grateful:
1. Routinely practicing gratitude helps us experience increased positive emotions including interest, excitement, joy and pride.
Gratitude increases dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain, which are key neurotransmitters that give us feelings of contentment. If we are grateful more often, the happiness-producing neural pathways strengthen, just as exercise strengthens the body. Neuroscience researcher Alex Korb, Ph.D., has written in his 2016 book The Upward Spiral, that in fact, by focusing on the positive aspects in your life, a grateful person “…increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex.” As stimulating possibly as Prozac, expressing gratitude can help the anterior cingulate cortex regulate emotions, which is one of its central functions.
2. Gratitude promotes optimism, which leads to greater well-being.
Researchers from the University of California, Davis and the University of Miami found that after regularly expressing gratitude for 10 weeks, study participants reported feeling more optimistic about their lives. As a result, these participants exercised more and visited the doctor less often.
Optimism, in turn, has been shown to be a life-lengthening trait, based on a recent Harvard University study. “The most optimistic women had a 16% lower risk of dying from cancer; 38% lower risk of dying from heart disease; 39% lower risk of dying from stroke; 38% lower risk of dying from respiratory disease; and 52% lower risk of dying from infection,” according to the study.
In addition, there are previously researched mental health benefits to optimism, boosted, in part, by gratitude. “Optimism may significantly influence mental and physical well-being by the promotion of a healthy lifestyle as well as by adaptive behaviors and cognitive responses, associated with greater flexibility, problem-solving capacity and a more efficient elaboration of negative information,” write researchers in Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health.
Overall well-being seems to be influenced by optimism, which gives us another reason to be grateful more often.
3. Expressing gratitude strengthens relationships.
Robert Emmons, Ph.D., a gratitude researcher, writes, “When you become truly aware of the value of your friends and family members, you are likely to treat them better, perhaps producing an ‘upward spiral,’ a sort of positive feedback loop, in which strong relationships give you something to be grateful for, and in turn fortifying those very same relationships.”
Healthy relationships, in turn, make us happy. How? According to the longest-running study on human development by Harvard University, the leading predictor of health and happiness in a person’s life is the quality of their relationships. The cascading benefits of gratitude do not stop short of neuroscience or boosts to optimism; they include strengthening our relationships.
4. If you receive gratefulness, you’re probably likely to pay it forward.
If gratitude promotes benevolence, wouldn’t that make for a better world? Consider this: Expressing gratitude to a loved one or friend can lead him or her to pay it forward. Receiving appreciation makes us feel loved—feelings that can inspire us to initiate more positive and helpful actions toward others. As positive psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., wrote in her book The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, “Grateful people are more likely to help others [because] you become aware of kind and caring acts and feel compelled to reciprocate.”
Expressing gratitude promotes our happiness and paves the way for good actions. What better way to lift ourselves and bring joy this Thanksgiving? By being grateful as often as we can.
A shortened version of this article, written by the author, was previously published in Success Magazine.