Being thankful benefits you in so many ways. Read on to see 16 benefits of gratitude and how long you need to practice gratitude before you see results.
16 Benefits of Gratitude
- Increases mental strength. It makes us happier and less likely to suffer from depression.
- Improves self-esteem. When you recognize the good things that people do for you, then you feel loved, which is great for your self-esteem.
- Helps you make new friends by showing appreciation.
- Can improve your physical health.
- Can improve your psychological health.
- Helps you show more empathy toward other people and makes you less likely to seek revenge.
- Can improve your sleep.
Dr. Robert Emmons, UC Davis psychology professor and author of “The Little Book of Gratitude: Creating a Life of Happiness and Wellbeing by Giving Thanks”, is known by many as the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, lists many benefits of gratitude in his book including the following:
- Enhances our relationships.
- Heighten feelings of connectedness.
- Makes you 25% happier.
Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D. talks about the following benefits of gratitude:
- People who are more grateful get sick less often.
- Makes you more generous with your time and money.
- Makes you more giving.
Hill, Allemand, & Roberts, show that the more grateful a person is, the more likely they will have:
- Better psychological and physical health.
A study by Emmons & McCullough showed that gratitude even:
- Motivates you to exercise more.
Another study found that it even:
- Lowers aggression.
Now that we have established the importance of gratitude, you might want to know how long you need to practice gratitude before seeing any of these benefits.
How Long Does it Take to Feel the Benefits of Gratitude?
Emmons asked three groups of people to write in a journal once a week for ten weeks. One group was asked to write 5 things they were grateful for, the second group wrote 5 things they were displeased about and the third group wrote about 5 neutral events.
At the end of the 10 weeks, Dr. Emmons compared the well-being outcomes to those measured before they started writing in their journals. Participants who wrote five things that they were grateful for each week were 25% happier than the other participants. They felt better about their lives and were more optimistic in general than the other two groups.
Some studies have seen results even sooner. Thompson explains that just one week of doing the “three good things exercise” (every night you put pen to paper and write three things that went well that day and WHY they went well) resulted in people being happier.
However, you might not necessarily see results so soon. According to Joel Wong and Joshua Brown, the mental health benefits of gratitude writing do not happen overnight but rather accrue gradually over time. During their studies, a small improvement in mental health was seen after one month, and a more significant difference was felt after 12 weeks. When you practice gratitude, don’t expect to feel much better right away. However, if you consistently cultivate an attitude of gratitude, then you should start reaping the benefits of gratitude over time.
The Risks of Gratitude and Positivity
No matter how good something is, too much of a good thing is not necessarily beneficial.
There are indeed tremendous benefits to gratitude and positive thinking but can too much positivity be harmful? Yes, in some cases, positivity can potentially be unproductive and harmful. It can silence negative emotions, demean grief, and make people feel under pressure to pretend to be happy even when they are having a really hard time. This is known as toxic positivity.
Toxic positivity can be prevented if you understand that certain events evoke negative thoughts and these shouldn’t necessarily be avoided. Negative emotions are an inevitable part of life and something that we need to experience in order to have a full, rich life (Positive Psychology). Anger and sadness are legitimate emotions and it is natural to feel them in certain circumstances. Therefore, whereas positivity is a good means to cope, you shouldn’t overlook and dismiss true expression. Certain events, such as a loss, will cause sadness, and it is okay to feel sad. Let yourself feel your feelings even if they are negative. Let others share their feelings without you feeling a need to fix them. Sometimes, people just want empathy and don’t want a solution. When you offer positivity and gratitude to them, it just makes them feel worse. It is as if their feelings are not legitimate when they are.
Negative emotions like anger and sadness serve a purpose. They alert us that something is going on and sometimes these feelings should be addressed, understood, and felt. If you try to hide them with positivity or gratitude, then you might be simply sweeping them under a rug.
How do you know if you should sit with your negative emotions or use gratitude or other positivity techniques to change your mindset?
I think that the solution is to use gratitude in a mindful way. Don’t disregard negative emotions or try to block them out. Understand that your negative emotions are legitimate but use gratitude to put them in proportion. Yes, you are sad but use gratitude to understand that you are also happy. Use gratitude to notice those happy moments or feelings that you might have overlooked if you were not looking for them. This balances your experiences and helps you cope with legitimate negative emotions. It helps you understand that even in hard times not everything is negative.
For example, someone who loses their job might be sad and angry, and that’s legitimate. This might make them feel that everything in their lives isn’t going well and things are really bad. However, they can use gratitude to see that many things are still going well for them. They might have a good relationship with their partner, kids they love, good friends, skills that will enable them to find a new job, a talent that will be appreciated by other potential employers, etc. Gratitude will help them understand that things aren’t all bad. They have a lot of positive things happening in their lives. This puts their problems in proportion and makes it a lot easier to cope with them.
- “The Little Book of Gratitude: Creating a Life of Happiness and Wellbeing by Giving Thanks”, Dr. Robert Emmons, PhD
- 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude – Psychology Today
- How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain – Greater Good Magazine
- The Science of Gratitude – Bright Line Eating – Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D
- How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain, Joshua Brown, Joel Wong, Greater Good Magazine
- Examining the Pathways between Gratitude and Self-Rated Physical Health across Adulthood, Patrick L. Hill, Mathias Allemand, and Brent W. Roberts, National Library of Medicine
- Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
- A Grateful Heart is a Nonviolent Heart: Cross-Sectional, Experience Sampling, Longitudinal, and Experimental Evidence, C. Nathan DeWall, Nathaniel M. Lambert, Richard S. Pond, Jr
Todd B. Kashdan, Frank D. Fincham, Sage Journals
- What are Positive and Negative Emotions and Do We Need Both? – Positive Psychology