Want to drastically improve your overall health and well-being with one simple strategy? You don’t need to spend money on pills. There is no miracle diet involved, nor an extreme workout regimen. And you don’t need go off in search of a fountain of youth. You just need gratitude.
Getting grateful is about focusing on the good in your life, and transitioning your mind away from the bad. “You can do this anytime with a technique called ‘cognitive reframing,’ or ‘thought restructuring,’” says psychologist and counselor Karla Ivankovich, PhD. “In doing this, we become cognizant of each negative thought, and then we replace it with something that reframes the thought in a more positive manner.” For instance, if your boss drops extra work on your plate for the week, you can reframe the thought to examine what you like about the task or appreciate the fact that you have a good job.
The other way you can cultivate an attitude of gratitude is through journaling. Every night before bed, write down three things you’re thankful for. As you fall to sleep, don’t worry about the anxieties and hiccups from the previous day, instead think about those positives you just put to paper.
Research has shown both meditating on and journaling about moments of gratitude can substantially improve one’s health. How so? Just count the ways below.
HEALTHIER GLUCOSE LEVELS
In a 2016 study, researchers noticed dispositional mindfulness—also known as “everyday” mindfulness, just like Ivankovich detailed above—may be associated with better glucose regulation in study participants with type-2 diabetes.
According to work by Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis and Michael McCullough of the University of Miami, getting grateful can lead to adopting healthier habits. The researchers had three groups journal a few sentences each week. One group detailed things they were thankful for, another wrote about stressors, and a third wrote about positive or negative events from the previous week. At the end of 10 weeks, the group that set out to express gratitude felt more optimistic about their lives, had fewer doctor visits, and exercised more frequently.
LOWER STRESS & ANGER LEVELS
In a 2012 study from researchers at the University of Kentucky, those who scored higher on measures of gratitude were less likely to lash out against others—even when they were given negative feedback.
In a 2014 study published in the Journal of Sport Psychology, athletes who showed more gratitude toward their coaches had better self-esteem. The researchers measured their positive vibes after both two and six months, and the same held true.
In a 2015 study, researchers dug into the gratitude scores of participants. Those who scored higher had lower levels of inflammation, which can lead to major heart problems. Oh, and when the men and women journaled about things they were thankful for? They showed a reduction in key inflammatory biomarkers.
In a 2011 study published by the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, just 15 minutes of gratitude journaling each night helped subjects sleep better and longer. With a little positive scribbling, the participants worried less and quieted their thoughts at night.
LOWER ANXIETY & DEPRESSION RISK
For more evidence to invest in a notebook, 2014 research published in the Journal of Happiness Studies showed that men and women who wrote down daily moments of kindness and gratitude substantially improved their moods. They had a greater number of happy days than the control group, felt more connected to others, and reduced feelings of anxiety—all in just 14 days.
According to gratitude researcher Emmons, journal studies regularly show that subjects who chronicle what they’re most thankful for report a greater sense of vitality and energy. This might simply be due to all the physical health benefits that seem to be linked to gratitude.
Ivankovich suggests establishing gratitude goals for your communications and or thoughts. “For every negative thought, you must deliver five positive statements—or something of the like,” she explains. “We live in a society that is media-driven, and much of what is found in the media is rooted in negativity. Because we are so inundated with this, it’s often difficult to find our way back to happy—but if you practice this like any other skill, it will start to become second nature.” And as the research indicates, you’ll reap so many rewards.