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9 Science-Backed Benefits of Gratitude

December 2017 CWM Update

Over the years, one thing I’ve noticed about our most grounded and successful clients is that many of them, while having aspirations for tomorrow, have tremendous gratitude for today. There’s been a lot of buzz around terms like happiness, fulfillment, etc. and I (I’m sure like many of our readers) have often reflected upon how I can strike a better balance between work, family, community, and other sometimes conflicting priorities. How do we get it all done, and hit our goals, while maintaining at least some semblance of happiness and sanity? In the quest for a better future, it can sometimes be easy to forget or take for granted all of the wonderful people and things that are already present in our lives. As someone shared with me earlier this week, it’s easy to be “held hostage to the tyranny of the immediate” (quote credited to The Galloping Gourmet).

With the above in mind, and in the spirit of the season, I invited guest writer and amazing life coach, Lena D. Meyer, to share the science backed benefits of gratitude - which range from improved health to better business performance. As one of the top coaches in the Pacific Northwest and the founder of Gratitude6, Lena has supported hundreds of people in living their most joyful, meaningful, and empowered lives. May we all take a moment to pause and reflect on all that we are grateful for as we enter the new year. 

To all of you, in gratitude,

Shilo M. Lockett
President

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9 Science-Backed Benefits of Gratitude

(4 minute read)

There’s a lot of buzz about gratitude these days, and everyone from positive psychologists to mindfulness mavens are touting it as a key component to joyful living.

But is gratitude just some fluffy fad that do-gooders and personal growth gurus are talking about?  Is being grateful just the polite thing we’re expected to express?  Or are there actual benefits to this whole gratitude thing that extend beyond the surface of the simple thank you and into the depths of a happier and more meaningful life?

Well, not only do I love gratitude, but I love science as well, and today’s article gives gratitude a big old hi-five and stamp of approval with 9 science-backed benefits of cultivating a deeper sense of gratitude in our lives.

1. Gratitude is good for your physical health.

Gratitude is certainly an internal emotion, but did you know it impacts the internal workings of our physical body as well?  It has been shown to lower blood pressure, increase the duration and quality of sleep, increase people’s engagement in physical exercise, and has a number of positive correlations to improved overall health and increased longevity.1  The message?  Be grateful, live longer, and enjoy the ride along the way.

2. Gratitude increases self-esteem.

Did you know that feeling shame, guilt, and pride all activate similar reward centers in the brain?2  Strange but true!  This is one of the reasons it’s so natural for us to load up with guilt and shame…it actually triggers a feeling of reward in a weirdly covert way.

The good news - there’s a way to change this that not only sheds the guilt and shame, but enhances the feeling of pride as well.  Wondering what it is?  Gratitude, of course.  How?  A great way to pattern interrupt the guilt/shame spiral is by asking the key question: What am I grateful for?  This provides instant relief, and over time begins to build new neural pathways that lead to a more habitual positive and empowering thinking spiral instead.

3. Gratitude decreases anxiety and worry.

As humans, we are naturally inclined to worry about things.  (Did you think you were the only one? Well, you’re in good company, and you are NOT.)  But why do we do this to ourselves?  Even though it may not feel good, at the same time worrying can actually have a calming effect on the limbic system of the brain.3   If you think about it…when you’re worrying, your mind feels like it is “doing something” about the situation by trying to see all of the possibilities or figure out a solution (often obsessively).

However, there is a way to both feel good AND “do something” by interrupting the anxiety/worry spiral with some other great gratitude-based questions: What is going well? (and) What are my successes?  Just like the guilt/shame spiral interceptors, these questions will reroute and strengthen your positive mindset in the moment, and over time.

4. Gratitude reduces depression.

On a chemical level, many studies have shown that gratitude boosts both dopamine and serotonin, the “feel good” neurotransmitters in the brain.  Interestingly enough, did you know that both of these components are found in many of today’s popular antidepressants as well?

It may then be no surprise that the effect of having gratitude in our lives has been shown to reduce depression, and in many cases can be a wonderful addition to your mental health care regime.4  A little bit of gratitude makes a big difference, and can be extremely effective in helping to shift into greater joy in your life.

5. Gratitude increases motivation and goal attainment.

So…you might be thinking… “If I start feeling grateful for life ALL the time, won’t I become complacent?  Won’t it decrease my motivation to do anything differently or go for my dreams?”  It might be understandable to think this (hello anxiety/worry spiral!), but studies have shown that in fact the opposite is true.  Gratitude actually enhances motivation and our ability to make progress on important goals…so go ahead, be grateful, and continue going for the gold!5

6. Gratitude is good for business.

When people feel acknowledged and appreciated it goes a long way, and not just in our personal lives.  Studies conducted on the effects of gratitude in the workplace, over a pool of nearly 50 countries, found that gratitude was directly linked “to improvements in productivity, profitability, quality, loyalty, safety, absenteeism, and other cost and performance metrics.”6  Saying thank you (and meaning it) is free, and may just be one of the most cost-effective ways to boost your work experience, and bottom line.   

7. Gratitude strengthens relationships.

Have you ever spent time with someone who TRULY appreciates you?  Or vice versa?  It feels good, doesn’t it?  This is perhaps an obvious connection, yet the power of gratitude in strengthening relationships is not to be underestimated.  Studies have linked gratitude to both increased relationship satisfaction and inclusive behaviors in social settings.7  A deeper connection based on true appreciation and acknowledgement is a powerful basis for increasing the bond in existing relationships and expanding our social circles beyond our current sphere.

8. Gratitude increases altruism and impact.

So…we know that gratitude makes us feel better, improves our social life, and creates a better work environment, but isn’t that ultimately self-serving and limited in its scope?  If that were all it did, maybe, however studies have shown that gratitude doesn’t just make us feel good and keep it all to ourselves, it actually inspires us to help others.  On top of that, it motivates us not only to help those whom we feel specifically grateful for, but to help complete strangers as well.8  The ripple effect of cultivating gratitude is real, so go ahead and load up on all the gratitude you like, and notice where the inspiration and action take you.

9. Gratitude increases happiness.

At this point, we are racking up quite a list of gratitude benefits.  So far we have improved our physical health, increased our self-esteem, reduced anxiety, worry and depression, achieved our goals with greater motivation, increased our business success, enhanced our social life, AND made a positive contribution to the world.

Perhaps it seems quite clear that greater happiness would ensue, and in fact, both logic and research back up this claim.  Gratitude has been shown across multiple studies to increase happiness overall…from the basics of simply having more “feel good” neurotransmitters floating around, to increased overall life satisfaction from the shifts and changes that having a regular connection to gratitude supports and creates.9


So…now that you know the powerful benefits that gratitude can deliver, are you wondering how to cultivate more of it in your own life?  If yes, check out this Coaching Toolbox, "5 Minute Happiness Boost: Gratitude Journaling Made Easy" where you'll learn fun and easy ways to bring more gratitude into your life.

In the meantime, let me know if you have questions or want to say hello.  I read every note that comes my way, and if you are inspired, I’d love to hear from you.

With love and (of course) gratitude,

Lena

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Lena D. Meyer is a Transformational Life Coach, Public Speaker, and founder of Gratitude6.  She is ranked as one of the top coaches in the Pacific Northwest, and since 2008 has supported hundreds of people in living their most joyful, meaningful, and empowered lives.

Copyright © 2017 Gratitude6, LLC, all rights reserved.
 
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References

[1] Research reported by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D. and Anjali Mishra.  “Why Gratitude Enhances Well-Being: What We Know, What We Need to Know” 2010.
[2] [3] Research reported by Eric Barker in “New Neuroscience Reveals 4 Rituals That Will Make You Happy” 2015, on findings from Alex Korb PhD, author of “The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time” 2015.
[4] Research reported by Alex Korb Ph.D. “The Grateful Brain: The Neuroscience of Giving Thanks” 2012.
[5] Research by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D. and Anjali Mishra.  “Why Gratitude Enhances Well-Being: What We Know, What We Need to Know” 2010.
[6] Research by IBM Smarter Workforce Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management, Globoforce, as reported by Dr. Robert Emmons, Ph.D in “Three Surprising Ways That Gratitude Works at Work” 2017.
[7] Research by Monica Y Bartlett, Paul Condon, Jourdan Cruz, Jolie Baumann & David Desteno.  “Gratitude: Prompting Behaviors that Build Relationships” 2011.
[8] Research by Christina N. Armenta and Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D.  “How Gratitude Motivates Us to Become Better People” 2017.
[9] Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School.  “In Praise of Gratitude” 2011.


Note: This article in no way represents nor replaces medical or psychological care.  Please seek appropriate medical care and counsel for any occurrences of anxiety, depression, physical ailments, or any other wellness or psychological topics that may affect you.  Read full disclaimer here. The opinions of Lena D. Meyer do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Financial Group, LLC.

This article has been prepared and distributed for informational purposes only and is not a solicitation or an offer to buy any security or investment or to participate in any trading strategy. Information is based on sources believed to be reliable; however, their accuracy or completeness cannot be guaranteed. This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax, legal or investment planning advice as individual situations will vary. For specific advice about your situation, please consult with a financial professional. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

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