Practicing gratitude really does change everything. It's a life-saving habit—a pretty strong statement, but the benefits of gratitude are backed by tremendous amounts of scientific research. Practicing gratitude is a habit I really focused on a few years ago, and I cannot emphasize enough how powerful it is.
I talk about gratitude at home and I've brought it into my classroom. At the end of every class, I now give my college students a different gratitude prompt and we spend time talking about the many reasons they have to be more grateful.
Why? Because the benefits of gratitude touch every area of life. Did you know that the practice of gratitude actually changes the molecular structure of the brain? When we practice gratitude and make it a habit, it gets even easier (and then we start reaping all the benefits of gratitude in a positive snowball effect).
As the mom of a tween and teen, I cannot ignore what the science says about gratitude for myself and my family. I do a disservice to my kids if I don't help them practice gratitude.
The Benefits of Gratitude
One of the biggest benefits of gratitude is happiness. A study by Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people who practice gratitude tend to be 25% happier!
But there's so much more.
As I was writing this post, I found a helpful document from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) called Creating a Healthier Life: A Step-by-Step Guide to Wellness and realized that science shows how gratitude can improve all eight dimensions of wellness.
Below you'll find research about gratitude and each of these eight dimensions of wellness, along with a list of things to be grateful for. Grab a journal, a notebook or the notes app on your phone and focus on one area at a time. Make your gratitude list specific and personal so you can reap all the benefits of gratitude.
10 Emotional Benefits of Gratitude
The National Institutes of Health defines emotional wellness as “the ability to successfully handle life’s stresses and adapt to change and difficult times.”
Based on the research, practicing gratitude is one of the best ways to achieve emotional wellness.
Ever wish you could get a better handle on negative emotions like envy, resentment, frustration and regret? Do a better job of managing stress in a healthy way? Have better self-esteem? Or maybe these are all things you wish for your whole family. Practicing gratitude improves all of them.
And making a habit of gratitude decreases symptoms of depression and anxiety, and may help counteract suicidal thoughts. It helps us think more positively and develop resilience so we can cope with the inevitable difficulties in life.
Gratitude is a life-changing gift we can give our tweens and teens.
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Emotional Wellness: 14 things to be grateful for
- Relationships that encourage you to express thoughts and feelings
- Seeing a challenge as an opportunity
- Learning from mistakes
- Taking responsibility for your actions
- Prioritizing your mental health
- Healthy coping mechanisms (journaling, music, talking)
- Maintaining a daily routine
- Time away from technology
- Enjoying meal time without distractions
- Awareness of your emotions and stress levels
- The ability to manage stress
- Listening before you speak
- Looking for something positive in negative situations
- Helping others look for the good
10 Social Benefits of Gratitude
Healthy relationships are foundational for social wellness. Practicing gratitude can strengthen family relationships and make us more willing to help. It can also help improve relationships that need some work—we’re more likely to trust other people and we’re better equipped to forgive.
Grateful people create community and connections, which naturally leads to a wider social network and more friends. When we regularly practice gratitude, we’re more agreeable and we have more empathy, an essential ingredient for thriving communities.
And here’s a really cool finding: when we take the time to say thank you, the people we thank are twice as likely to help more people, including strangers. Our world could use a whole lot more of that!
Social Wellness: 10 things to be grateful for
- Meaningful friendships
- Groups to connect with on important issues and stages of life
- Spending time with friends
- Spending time with family
- Prioritizing your most important relationships
- Accepting invitations and participating in social activities
- Meeting new people
- Meeting people with different backgrounds
- Finding a place or way to volunteer
- Exploring new places and locations
11 Physical Benefits of Gratitude
It makes sense that gratitude can positively impact our emotional and social wellness, but our physical wellness? Yes, gratitude improves our overall physical health.
The neuroscience of gratitude is fascinating! This even got the attention of my teenager who usually rolls his eyes when I talk about gratitude. (In fairness, I do it all the time so I’m sure he gets tired of it.)
Physical Wellness: 17 things to be grateful for
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Access to healthy foods
- Cooking at home
- A nearby grocery store or farmer’s market
- Local restaurants
- Carryout or delivery
- The ability to move your body
- Exercise and physical activity
- Finding ways to get extra steps
- Taking a walk
- A bed to sleep in
- Getting a good night’s sleep
- Waking up in the morning
- Medical professionals for routine care
- Health insurance
- Access to prescriptions
- Choices in hygiene items
3 Spiritual Benefits of Gratitude
SAMHSA defines spiritual wellness as “a broad concept that represents personal beliefs and values and involves having meaning, purpose and a sense of balance and peace.” Nearly every religion emphasizes the importance of gratitude—makes sense in light of all the benefits of gratitude that are supported by scientific research.
Spiritual Wellness: 6 things to be thankful for
- Being grounded in values and beliefs
- Freedom to choose what and how to worship
- Finding meaning in life
- Connecting with others who share your beliefs
- Helping others when you notice a need
- Time to practice spiritual disciplines (prayer and meditation, reading)
10 Occupational Benefits of Gratitude
Princeton University defines occupational wellness as “finding fulfillment from your work and study, contributing meaningfully and continuing to expand your skills and strengths.” School, paid work and volunteerism fall under the occupational wellness umbrella, so it’s important during every stage of life.
I was surprised to discover how much gratitude matters in our work and career lives. Having a job you love makes it easier, but practicing gratitude increases job satisfaction and helps us find purpose and meaning in our work, no matter what that work might be. It also reduces work-related stress, improves decision making, increases productivity and leads to greater effort in reaching our goals.
If you’re in a leadership position at work (or want to be in the future), the practice of gratitude is invaluable. It improves managerial skills because you’re more likely to praise and motivate employees whose efforts help you to be successful. Gratitude inspires trust, increases employee effectiveness and improves organizational performance.
Occupational Wellness: 10 things to be grateful for
- Work or a career that fits your values
- Communicating with your employer or supervisor
- Connecting and communicating with your coworkers
- Making positive contributions at work
- Finding satisfaction in your work
- Taking time to have fun
- Finding ways to relax
- Giving back to your community
- Spending your time well
- Professional accomplishments
6 Financial Benefits of Gratitude
The National Financial Educators Council defines financial wellness as “the present stability and future resiliency of your money.” Using gratitude to improve financial wellness is a pretty interesting concept, and one that has plenty of scientific support.
When we practice gratitude, we have more patience and impulse control so we’re more likely to resist immediate gratification. Gratitude leads to lower materialism and greater contentment with what we already have. It helps us reach our financial goals and leads us to be more generous.
Financial Wellness: 7 things to be thankful for
- A job or career
- Work that is gratifying in some way
- Understanding your finances
- Living on a budget
- A plan to manage debt
- Access to someone who can help with money management
- Understanding how to plan for retirement
3 Intellectual Benefits of Gratitude
Intellectual wellness isn’t about how smart you are—it’s about how you keep your mind active. It’s about lifelong learning, broadening your perspective and understanding different points of view. So how does gratitude help any of that?
Practicing gratitude can improve our emotional and academic intelligence, largely due to the many other benefits of gratitude. We also know that gratitude physically changes your brain and leads you to be more grateful with less effort.
Intellectual Wellness: 14 things to be thankful for
- Literacy and the ability to read
- Books, libraries and bookstores
- Bookshelves at home
- Learning new skills
- Being creative
- Exploring a new hobby
- Podcasts and TED Talks
- Access to the performing arts
- Teaching a skill or sharing what you know
- Brain teasers or puzzles
- Choices about where you get your news
- Listening to the ideas and experiences of others
5 Environmental Benefits of Gratitude
I have never considered environmental wellness before—or at least not by that name. The NIH explains that it’s about “what surrounds you each day in your home, work or neighborhood and the resources available to you.” It includes your physical space, but also the people, ideas and attitudes that surround you.
When we practice gratitude, we’re less likely to focus on things that make us anxious or fearful. We have stronger and more positive relationships and we foster a culture of respect and courtesy. Gratitude leads to lower materialism and greater contentment with what we already have.
Environmental Wellness: 8 things to be thankful for
- A home
- The ability to make choices about green living
- Spending time outside
- Visiting a local park
- Cleaning all or part of your home
- Decreasing clutter
- Organizing your workspace
- Decorating your home and creating a space you love
Final Thoughts About the Benefits of Gratitude
With all the scientific benefits of gratitude, it’s easy to see why we call it a life-saving habit.
I’ve come to the conclusion that happy people are grateful people first.
When happiness feels elusive, gratitude helps us turn our focus outward to the goodness in our lives.
Gratitude is the humility to find joy in the everyday, and it’s the power to overcome the hardest moments of life.
When you understand all that gratitude does, it’s impossible NOT to see it as a guaranteed way to fortify your soul.
Even if you change nothing else in your life, prioritizing gratitude can change it all.