You’ve heard it before.
I know you have:
“Always live with an attitude of gratitude.”
Few people, however, really know the power of gratitude.
Nearly everyone knows the importance of it, but few people consider its benefits convincing enough to actually make gratitude a regular practice, as they would with washing their hair or cleaning the home, for example.
Fortunately, we live in a world of unprecedented scientific evidence to match the perennial wisdom we’ve all intuitively known throughout our lives, shedding a new light on the importance of being thankful for what we have.
I remember how much I had heard and read about gratitude before I made it an integral part of my life.
It all seemed to make sense and generally seemed to be the right thing to do. But I finally came to realize it’s much more than that.
I can say with absolute confidence that it’s not just a feel-good practice or a virtue to be cultivated.
It will change everything in your life for the better. And it will do so immediately.
So let’s dig in.
[Note: If you would like to read this at a later time, you can download this article as a PDF]
Gratitude makes happy moments happy forever
Specifically, gratitude forces us to be non-compliant to the hedonic treadmill.
What is the hedonic treadmill?
The hedonic treadmill refers to the habitual nature by which we adjust to the conditions and events in our lives, whether they are good or bad.
We all experience this at one time or another in life. A job promotion, moving into a new home, or starting a new relationship.
With time, we get used to these wonderful times in life, and the happiness they give us diminishes over time.
I remember the first time this became evident to me — when I got my first job. Coming out of university, this was a delight knowing I’ll be doing something I enjoy and making progress in life.
Within a few weeks, however, the routine of getting up, going to work, and coming back became the new norm, and I wouldn’t have been able to say I was significantly happier than before I had the job.
However, one practice is shown to negate our compliance to the treadmill.
You guessed it: gratitude.
The reason is not surprising. If we feel grateful for what we have, we don’t get use to it. Another way of saying this is, we don’t take it for granted.
The cute habits of your new partner always remain cute. The wonders of the new job remain a wonder. The new home always feels new.
In fact, a study that asked people to focus on three good things that happened throughout that day revealed a significant increase in happiness not only when participants did the study, but… wait for it… six months after the study finished.
Gratitude can save your marriage
What a promise!
Okay, no I’m not saying the only thing you should do is be grateful for each other and all will be well.
But it most definitely will help foster a more balanced, harmonious relationship over the long term.
Why? Well, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, those who are appreciated never want to hurt the one who showed them the appreciation.
If I am wholeheartedly thankful for you washing the dishes, you won’t get angry at me once they are done.
Secondly, it keeps us on the right side of the Losada ratio
I know, another unnecessarily fancy term. But stick with me…
The Losada ratio is a numbered ratio that is effective in determining the long-term well-being of a marriage.
After many years of research and with a 90% accuracy of determining happy or unhappy marriages, it simply states that if a couple does not maintain a 5:1 positive to negative ratio of encounters, their marriage is in serious trouble.
Of course, scrutinizing every word you say to each other will cause it’s own stress, so I advise beginning with a small audit just to see where you currently stand.
Over the next few days, keep an eye on how many times you make nagging remarks, or shows disapproval, lack of support, or lack of appreciation for what your other half does.
If you maintain less than five positive expressions for every one negative expression, something needs to change.
However, thanking your partner a few times each day will keep you well within the good books of the Losada ratio.
Gratitude can make you richer
I’m not suggesting that you write things you’re thankful for so that random sums of money will fly into your bank account, but the practice of gratitude has a logical and positive impact on one’s financial well-being.
Let’s think this through.
Firstly, if you’re grateful for what you have, naturally you will have fewer desires for more material possessions.
Those who are truly appreciative of the world we currently live in and thus the standard of living we have, naturally have fewer material desires because they know they will unlikely increase their happiness.
Therefore, you spend less. And there are only two ways to be better off financially: save more, or earn more.
Gratitude is a massive money-saver.
If that isn’t enough, research suggests that those who experience gratitude have more favorable views of the economy, and they are more confident in their future job growth and future family income.
Gratitude may prevent your pending heart surgery
The power of gratitude is substantial, and the litany of positive effects it has on physical health could keep us here all day.
One crucial effect of gratitude on health, however, is specifically its ability to reduce blood pressure.
Along with increasing sleep time and average exercise time per week, the practice of writing gratitude in a journal can reduce blood pressure by 10%.
Ten percent may not sound like much, but for a simple, enjoyable, and free exercise with no side effects, it’s truly a gem.
Seeing as heart disease is the highest cause of death both in America and the UK, managing blood pressure (which over the long-term if not dealt with can lead to heart problems) is essential.
Gratitude dramatically reduces anger
No one likes angry people. From time to time, however, anger can override us.
You can manage anger successfully with a wide variety of practices, and sometimes doing so doesn’t require anger management classes or counseling.
A simple task you can do to reduce your anger is count your blessings.
Studies have found that consciously spending time to appreciate what you have and the people you have makes you kinder as a person, which in turn reduces anger.
One study in particular found grateful people to be less aggressive overall, and it concluded that gratitude leads to a “non-violent heart” – not bad for such a simple habit!
In addition, research that looked at resilience in people following a catastrophic global incident found that gratitude is an emotion that helps to deal with stressful and traumatic events, thus helping to develop psychological strength and decrease aggression and anger.
We all have had those times when we felt happy for no reason whatsoever.
Have you ever noticed that when these times occur, people don’t bother you? Seemingly annoying behaviors aren’t so annoying, you forgive easily, and all seems simply, good.
This is the beauty of thankfulness. It puts you in a state of simple, unaffected euphoria.
And when you taste it often enough, you want it more and more often.
A positive addiction if you ask me.
Gratitude makes you sexier
We’ve discussed how gratitude leads to kindness of personality and thus less anger.
But kindness hides another wonder. It makes you attractive. And I mean that in the literal sense.
Many of us have experienced this phenomenon; finding someone more physically attractive after getting to know their glowing personality.
But have you ever wondered whether it’s just the overwhelming feeling of respect or love that caused this state, or whether there was a biological basis for this intuitive feeling?
Well, physical attraction did have an evolutionary advantage because it was an indicator of fitness-value, which was of course desirable.
What hadn’t been looked at for a long time, however, was what causes inherent physical attraction.
More recently, researchers have looked at physical and nonphysical factors affecting attraction and found that, while physical factors are important (especially in sexual relationships), non-physical factors such as familiarity, likeability and respectability were rated as more attractive.
The effect of non-physical influences on physical attractiveness was significant in both sexes, although to no one’s surprise, the impact was reduced with men rating women. However, it is my opinion that with time – and a lot of psychologically growth – this will change.
So never underestimate the importance of being a simple, good-hearted individual.
Try not to worry too much about your appearance. Spend less time worrying about looking good and more time being good, and you will look amazing forever.
Gratitude helps to nourish relationships
If you were to close your eyes and imagine for a few seconds the happiest times in your life.
The ones you truly cherish. The ones that are memories for a lifetime, when time stopped and all seemed well.
More often than not, you’ll notice these imaginations you hold in your mind are times when you were with other people.
Why is that?
It’s because humans are, by nature, social creatures. Our connection with others is what contributes to humans thriving and living to our fullest.
So much so that extensive research has shown babies, when newly born, must have physical contact; otherwise, they develop a high risk of early death.
Love is not just an emotion; it’s a fundamental human need.
That’s why children in orphanages who are withdrawn from frequent human contact are often found to have cognitive difficulties when growing up.
Love is so important, in fact, that it steered the director of one of the longest studies on happiness ever conducted, the Harvard Grant Study. It concluded that after studying 200 Harvard graduates for over 75 years, there is one simple truth to life:
“Happiness is love. Full stop.”
The greatest source of happiness comes from our intimate relationships.
Sharing gratitude on a regular basis with your spouse has been found to help couples view their relationships as flourishing.
One great study asked participants to report positive gestures from their spouses and note how that made them feel.
The study noted “for both men and women, gratitude from interactions predicted increases in relationship connection and satisfaction.”
This theory, applied to all relationships, will have a positive spillover effect on our friendships and work relationships, helping us develop constructive communication and mutual growth.
Gratitude fights with fear
And now to one of the most unwanted traits known to humankind: worry.
It’s rare you’ll ever notice your dog or cat sit, deep in thought, aimlessly worrying about what could happen tomorrow, what other dogs and cats may be thinking of them, or what may happen at the next social gathering.
This is a human dysfunction, and for the most part, it’s absolutely unnecessary.
Anxiety rarely has any positive effect, unless of course you’re in a life-or-death situation.
And in today’s world, those situations don’t come daily. But for many, anxiety and worry does.
Fortunately, there’s a solution.
Yep. Good-old thankfulness.
Think about it. When you are feeling gratitude, you aren’t fearful.
Because you cannot have the two thoughts simultaneously.
You cannot feel thankful for being healthy with the ability to walk without pain, for example, and worry about global warming at the same time.
A large review of the impact and implication of gratitude confirms that “thankfulness predicted a significantly lower risk of major depression, [and] generalized anxiety disorder.”
If this alone isn’t testament to the sheer power of gratitude, I don’t know what is.
Knowing what’s great about life encourages your mind to focus on the positive and spend less time focusing on the unpredictable future or the long-gone events of the past. You gain control of your happiness.
It truly is all within you.
Gratitude creates time distortion
Our experience of time is one of the most subjective matters we can discuss, and we often hear the positives of living in the moment.
Practicing gratitude is one way to bring yourself into the present moment, not by force or will, by as a welcomed secondary effect of an already-positive experience.
Not only does it helps us focus on the present, where true happiness lies, but it also creates in our minds the ability to savor and dwell in moments of joy.
When I began practicing gratitude regularly, I noticed this benefit played a part in my daily life very rapidly.
The simplest of routines such as showering, cooking, and walking became truly joyous activities. The sight and feel of water rushing off the body, the vibrant smell of a good meal, noticing the simple perfection of nature while walking.
These are things we fail to notice far too often because our minds are thinking about other things. Yet they are the essence of the moment we are living right now.
Missing the good times in life because we were too distracted by our other thoughts or the never-ending alerts from phones and computers is when we begin to have regrets and think that life could be better.
Gratitude is the celebration of the present moment. And what a celebration is truly is!
Gratitude boosts the bottom line
The previous nine effects of gratitude on well-being are all about our personal happiness and relational well-being.
It goes without saying that gratitude will also have a positive impact in the workplace.
But in addition to helping foster strong relationships and teamwork, it actually helps wire our minds for increased productivity and better decision-making.
It does this by developing the virtue of patience because of the impact gratitude has on selfishness and on the ability to enjoy the present moment.
Being content with your current situation and having a reduced need for external pleasures can harbor patience, which in turn develops more logical, balanced, and thoughtful decision-making – a vital skill in the workplace.
Patience while making decisions has a positive effect on a wide variety of business situations, including not jumping at deals, taking offers or opportunities only for short-term gains, and helping reduce negative managerial discussions with employees by being more understanding of others’ actions.
And since 60% of employees say they’ve never expressed gratitude at work, this could be an easily-implemented new tactic to give you the upper hand against competitors, by developing a loyal, hardworking, and smart team.
No wonder LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner says that the practice of reporting things you’re grateful for, both personal and professional, is the “highest ROI management tool in business.”
A simple challenge
So there you have it. Ten of the greatest reasons to begin practicing gratitude.
Life is a piece of art. It is the result of a rainbow of emotions, opinions, philosophies, and principles that help create true inner peace and long-term meaning.
I cannot tell you life is short and to live it to the fullest. Now, more than ever, we have time in abundance.
We have the time to create, to build, to change, to share, to fix, to begin, and to end.
But what good is time, if we depend on it for happiness?
Why build our dreams if we cannot wake up and see the beauty of today, arguably a more stunning vision than anything our minds can project.
I’m challenging you to make the most of life, to live the fullest, happiest day you can. And a part of that means expressing, feeling, and embodying heartfelt gratitude.
So, I’ll leave you with a simple question to ponder:
What are you grateful for today?