Have you ever wondered if there are any benefits to gratitude since repeatedly throughout Scripture, we are commanded to be thankful?
Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever.Psalm 136:1
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.I Thessalonians 5:16-18
We know we should be grateful, but did you know that being thankful is more than just a commandment? Did you know that it’s actually good for you? Yes! The benefits of gratitude are amazing. There are health benefits of gratitude, spiritual benefits, emotional benefits, and social benefits of gratitude.
Oh, and gratitude isn’t just for the month of November. Keep reading to discover why practicing gratitude every day is a good habit to start.
Health Benefits of Gratitude
When I think of how being thankful can affect a person, health benefits don’t top the list, but researchers have found some surprises as they’ve studied gratitude.
Robert Emmons, Ph.D., the leading scientific expert on gratitude, and his colleagues have researched gratitude for decades, examining the effects of keeping a gratitude journal for merely 3 weeks, and they found the following:
Grateful people sleep longer and feel more refreshed when they awaken.
It could be that you can avoid that Ambien and instead pick up a pen and paper and jot down a few things you’re thankful for before turning off the lights. In fact, many people complain about waking during the night, thinking of all the things they are worried about. Going to sleep thinking about the things you’re grateful for might just tamp down that anxiety that often causes sleeplessness.
Grateful people have lower blood pressure and fewer aches and pains.
While worry does not cause chronic high blood pressure, you might have felt your blood pressure sky-rocket in a stressful situation. Perhaps it’s not terribly surprising, then, that having a more positive outlook can lower blood pressure.
In similar fashion, choosing what to focus on—the good things—might just take away the focus from the bad things—aches and pains. Maybe like me, you’ve had the experience that the more you focus on your aches and pains, the more you feel them. The reverse might also be true.
Grateful people exercise more, take better care of themselves, and have a stronger immune system.
Not sure which comes first—gratitude or exercise—but if being grateful can help me do a better job of taking care of myself, then I’m in. And the result? A stronger immune system. Yep. All in.
Spiritual Benefits of Gratitude
God is not willy-nilly when He issues a command. There is always purpose behind the laws and that purpose often comes in the form of protection or provision.
We are not just commanded to avoid bad things (don’t lie, steal, etc.); we are also commanded to do good things, like practice gratitude. And with this command comes spiritual benefits like the following:
Grateful people are less self-focused.
When you recognize all of the things you have to be grateful for, you can’t help but notice that you are not self-sufficient. You’ve been blessed by the generosity of God and others. This is a good thing because those who are self-sufficient are also often proud and lonely, while recognizing how you’ve been blessed by others brings humility and joy—definite spiritual benefits.
Grateful people are more helpful, generous, and compassionate.
Yep, that’s what the research shows. And it makes sense that people who are less focused on themselves would be more helpful, generous, and compassionate.
Grateful people experience more joy.
I remember distinctly when this truth became a reality for me. I had been reading Ann Voskamp’s bestseller, One Thousand Gifts. She had been challenged to record 1000 things she was thankful for, and in the process she researched what biblical gratitude is all about. She discovered that nestled in the middle of the Greek word for gratitude, eucharisteo, is the Greek word charis. Charis is often translated “grace,” but interestingly this kind of grace is “that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, and loveliness.”
In other words, joy is embedded in gratitude!
Like I said, I remember the most unexpected joy that began to invade my life as I intentionally began to practice gratitude. I was hunting for things to be thankful for, examining everything around me, looking for anything that was a gift from God. One day, my kids and I walked to the grocery store, or rather, I walked and one of my sons rode his bike while pulling my daughter on her scooter. Seeing brotherly and sisterly love and the adorable way she kicked her leg up as she scooted along suddenly overwhelmed me with joy. I don’t know how else to describe it. I don’t even know why I was so joyful, but I was. And I know that it was because I was becoming a grateful woman.
Emotional Benefits of Gratitude
Grateful people are less depressed.
A 2008 study by psychologist Alex Wood in the Journal of Research in Personality showed that gratitude can reduce the frequency and duration of episodes of depression. As we discussed earlier, if gratitude can get our focus off of ourselves and if it also brings greater joy, then it follows that grateful people will suffer with less depression.
Grateful people are less envious and resentful.
The research is in, and the research is clear. But why? Why would grateful people be less envious and resentful? Grateful people focus on what they have rather than what they lack, so they don’t have time to worry about what everyone else has.
Whatever you focus on, grows. Focusing on gratitude, grows positive emotions. Focusing on what you lack, grows negative emotions.
Grateful people handle stressful situations better.
No doubt this is due to the fact that they can see the potential silver lining of a situation and they can find good things to focus on in the midst of stress. Their mental and spiritual health is already prepared for the challenges that come their way.
I began my gratitude journal in 2011, not knowing that two years later, I would need the benefits that we’re discussing when I was diagnosed with cancer. Having already built a habit of thankfulness allowed me to see all the ways that God was meeting my needs. Even in the small ways, like my nurse having had the same surgery and same neck scar, which allowed me to see that I wouldn’t always look this way! I had so many friends, and even strangers who are now friends, who brought meals, a huge blessing. I have no doubt that gratitude allowed me to handle the stress of cancer and an unknown future in a much healthier way.
Social Benefits of Gratitude
Grateful people have better relationships.
Grateful people have better relationships in part because they are aware of the good in others and express their appreciation for what others have done for them. Not surprisingly, then, resentment, as we discussed earlier, is not common in their relationships. When you’re looking for the good in others, you don’t have time to mentally resend (re-sent-ment) all those negative things about your spouse, child, or colleague.
Grateful people feel less lonely and isolated.
Would you rather be around someone who is thankful or whiny? Of course! Who wants to be around someone who is always complaining? Debbie Downer is not very popular!
Grateful people are more forgiving.
This social benefit is also not terribly surprising after all we’ve learned. Grateful people don’t have time to spend being resentful and understand the freedom that forgiveness brings. Now that doesn’t mean that forgiveness isn’t a process or doesn’t take time. It certainly does! But grateful people know the benefit and pursue it.
So much of this attitude of gratitude is a choice. Choosing to see the good, choosing to find the hopeful, choosing to find the blessings. It’s no wonder, then, that grateful people have trained themselves in such a way that the benefits are overwhelming.
Who’s ready to start their gratitude journal?