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How Gratitude Can Improve Your Health

December 16, 2020

If you’re having trouble getting into the holiday spirit this year, you’re not the only one. The holidays are upon us, but between the gray skies of winter and social distancing leaving many isolated, it’s hard to feel festive.

This season is the time to show appreciation for loved ones, and that may be especially important this year. As it turns out, expressing thankfulness and gratitude can positively affect both your physical and mental health. With the way things have gone in 2020, we could all use a little extra positivity.

Negativity Bias

Negativity bias is the human habit of mentally prioritizing negative experiences rather than positive or neutral ones. Neuroscientists suggest this is instinctual, a way for us to avoid future negative experiences by keeping them foremost in our mind.

While this may be helpful for avoiding potential danger, dwelling on negativity can create a cycle of cynicism. Depression, which is linked to poor heart health and a weaker immune system, can develop quickly from there.

Using Gratitude to Fight Negativity

Psychologists suggest gratitude is an excellent way to counteract the effects of the negativity bias. Focusing on the positives creates a more optimistic and empathetic perception of the world around you. It reduces negative emotions, like aggression, resentment, and jealousy, and inspires self-confidence. A 2006 study even reported that Vietnam veterans who experienced higher levels of gratitude showed lower rates of PTSD.

Gratitude can benefit your physical health, too; clinical trials show practicing gratitude decreases blood pressure and boosts immune system health. People who experience gratitude tend to exercise more frequently, abuse substances less, and have better eating and sleeping habits.

Gratitude makes a pretty good wingman, too; when looking for potential life partners, people are often attracted to positivity, and mutual appreciation is a great way to strengthen and grow a relationship. Even if you’re not looking for love, studies suggest showing gratitude toward an acquaintance makes them more likely to pursue a lasting friendship with you.

Showing Gratitude

The science behind it is all well and good, but how do you put gratitude into practice, especially during this crazy-difficult year?

Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness means being fully present and in touch with your thoughts in each moment. Be aware of your negative thoughts, and work toward shifting your focus toward the positive ones.

Start small. You can express gratitude for even the simplest things, like finding a dollar on the street or a compliment from a coworker. Try finding three things each day to be thankful for.

Record it. Share your moments of gratitude with your family over dinner, and encourage them to do the same. Write down your moments in a journal to easily remind yourself of the good in the world.

Volunteer. Volunteering not only helps you appreciate the blessings in your own life, it also provides the opportunity to improve someone else’s. Volunteering doesn’t require in-person attendance—check out these virtual volunteer opportunities.

Check out the Specialized Health and Safety blog for more tips on living a healthy life.