How many times a day do you say “thank you?” If you were to count, you’d realize that you say it to the bus driver, the sales associate who hands you your coffee, the kind stranger who holds the door for you – and that’s just before lunch!
Now, how many times a day do you say “thank you” to yourself? Cultivating gratitude – in relation to the world around you and also towards yourself – has many benefits for both mental and physical health. Read on to learn more about how creating routines of internal and external gratitude can enhance your life.
The science behind gratitude
Over the years, researchers have studied gratitude’s impact on human behavior, emotion, and cognition. The results largely show that gratitude has a positive effect on an individual’s physical and emotional health.
A systematic review on gratitude interventions conducted in 2020 found that sleep quality, blood pressure, glycemic control, and asthma control were all improved with routine gratitude practices.1 This study also showed a correlation between gratitude practice and health-promoting eating behaviors. A research article titled “Gratitude facilitates healthy eating behavior in adolescents and young adults” (2019) revealed a connection between expressed statements of gratitude, including regularly writing letters of gratitude, and subsequent healthy eating practices.2 Additionally, a 2017 study found that a gratitude intervention offered participants increased body-related self-esteem and decreased both dysfunctional eating and depressive symptoms.3
With scientific evidence pointing towards its benefits, gratitude now has a seat at the table amongst other valuable wellbeing movements. But how does it really work? Surely, a few extra times saying “thank you” each day won’t completely change your lifestyle. The answer is that it’s not simply the verbal expression of gratitude that improves your perspective but instead, the underlying effects.
Adopting a gracious lifestyle
When we focus on what we don’t have in our lives, especially in comparison to others, we risk coming up short. Instead, we can try to fully attend to and appreciate even the little things in our lives that bring us joy – things like that morning coffee, soft bed sheets, a sweet puppy passing you by. Taking a moment to appreciate builds positive experience and emotion that collectively can boost your mood and sense of well-being overall.
Keeping gratitude as a regular practice can also help you feel like you’re part of something larger than just yourself. Feeling grateful and expressing gratitude to your loved ones, friends, classmates, coworkers, and even strangers means that you’re looking externally, not just at your inner world. It can build a sense of community, which in itself has many powerful benefits.
So how do we engage in meaningful and lasting gratitude practices?
How to bring gratitude into your life
There are many ways to bring gratitude into your life, but it’s important to find a gratitude practice that is actually meaningful for you. When you’re reflecting on what you’re grateful for in your own life – however that looks for you – consider these dimensions:
What are you grateful for internally? This could be a personality trait, like your sense of humor or your intelligence. It could also be your resilience or your dedication to taking care of yourself. Maybe it’s the way that you approach a problem. Find something that you love about your mind and thank yourself for being you.
Your body takes you through your life. It connects you with others and turns your food into energy. It heals you when you’re sick. Reflect on what your body has been through and tell it a hearty thank you.
Is there anything from the past that you’re particularly proud of? It could be an achievement, like an A on a difficult final paper, or it could be the time that you got through a challenging conversation. A memory of a special day with a friend might come to mind. You can incorporate these memories into your gratitude practice by being thankful for where you’ve been and what you’ve done.
Are you working through something difficult? Did you feel the urge to engage in an unhealthy behavior today but stopped yourself? Sometimes, just getting through the day can be difficult. Take a moment to thank yourself for waking up this morning and taking on the day, even if you didn’t feel like it.
What are you most looking forward to in the future? Are you doing anything today, like working on your mental health, that will set you up well in the future? Don’t forget to thank your future self for what’s sure to be exciting, memorable experiences.
If you feel motivated to incorporate gratitude practices into your life, the therapists at Columbus Park can help. Gratitude practices, in addition to other evidence-based therapy modalities, can be a life-changing endeavor and help you break free from your eating disorder. Find out more by visiting our website.
- Boggiss, A.L., Consedine, N.S., Brenton-Peters, J.M., Hofman, P.L., Serlachius, A.S. (2020) A systematic review of gratitude interventions: Effects on physical health and health behaviors. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 135.
- Fritz, M.M., Aermenta, C.N., Walsh, L.C. & Lyubomirsky, S. (2019). Gratitude facilitates healthy eating behavior in adolescents and young adults. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 81, 4-14.
- Wolfe, L.W. & Patterson, K. (2017). Comparison of a gratitude-based and cognitive restructuring intervention for body dissatisfaction and dysfunctional eating behavior in college women. Eating Disorders, 25(4), 330-344.