Between the Covid-19 pandemic, civil and racial injustice, and the state of American politics (among so many other things), it’s easy to feel bitter, hopeless, and angry. If you do feel those emotions – that’s okay, you’re human, and times are tough! However, there has never been a more crucial or necessary time to live with an “attitude of gratitude.”
Let’s pause for a moment. You’re likely thinking, ‘John, what are you talking about!? How can we be grateful right now? The world is in disarray, I’m homeschooling my kids AND working from home, and I haven’t eaten in a restaurant in seven months!’
Well, that’s exactly why practicing gratitude is so critical.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
Practicing gratitude is much easier said than done, especially after having to cancel your wedding or forgo traveling to spend time with family over the holidays. I recall dozens of times during my time as Co-CEO at Primerica when I felt consumed by stress and anxiety. During these times, I had to force myself to practice gratitude. It wasn’t easy, but the more I made an effort to practice gratitude, the better I became at it, and over time I began to feel a greater sense of optimism. Coincidence? According to the science of gratitude, no!
Don’t just take my word for it. I’ve got facts on my side to back it up.
Gratitude Helps Your Mental Health
After months of uncertainty, confusion, and frustration, you might literally be experiencing some toxic thoughts and feelings. Leading gratitude researcher Dr. Robert A. Emmons shares that gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, including resentment, envy, frustration, and regret.
Having a bad day? Try to choose one thing, even something as small as the cup of coffee you’re drinking or the warm sweater you’re wearing to be grateful for. Small things compounded over time can make a world of difference.
Gratitude Helps Your Physical Health
Have you been feeling stiff and achy lately? Set down that bottle of Advil and pick up an attitude of gratitude! According to a study published in Personality and Individual Differences, people who show gratitude have fewer aches and pains than their counterparts. Aside from that, grateful individuals report feeling healthier across the board too.
This isn’t surprising as the grateful folks are also more likely to be mindful of their health. They make exercising a greater priority and see the doctor regularly, which contributes to increased health and longevity.
Gratitude Improves Your Sense of Empathy
Folks who live with an attitude of gratitude are more likely to show kindness, even when others act negatively. Research by the University of Kentucky shared that study participants who scored higher in showing gratitude were less likely to react vengefully, even when they received negative feedback.
In life and especially in leadership, you’re going to experience loads of negative feedback from people who want to see you fail. In these moments, you gotta hold your head up high and take the high road. A true leader doesn’t have the time or see the need to retaliate.
Gratitude Can Improve Your Sleep
A study conducted by Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being found that writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep. Gratitude expert Dr. Robert A. Emmons, a professor at the University of California, Davis, asked individuals with neuromuscular disorders to make a gratitude list each night listing things that they were grateful for. After three weeks of journaling, these same folks reported sleeping longer and more restfully.
Even if you’re just jotting a few things on a Post-It note each night before bed, you could reap major benefits from trying this out!
Gratitude Can Open The Door To New Relationships
If you’re looking to make new friends, a simple “thank you” to an acquaintance could make a bigger impact than you’d expect, according to a 2014 study.
This study showed the benefits of individuals practicing gratitude in society. The subjects of the study were university students who had believed they were mentoring high school students.
The university students were asked to provide feedback on the high school students’ college admissions essays. Once the college students had finished reviewing the essays, the high school students responded with thank you cards. About half of the thank you notes included the explicit statement of gratitude, “Thank you SO much for all the time and effort you put into doing that for me!”
The university students who received the sentiments of gratitude were more likely to provide their contact information to the high school students who were explicitly grateful, thus opening the door to a prospective friendship.
The same goes for leadership. Throughout my career and beyond I’ve learned that people want to work with people who they like and could see themselves being friends with. You’d be surprised by the number of times a genuine “thank you” or a pat on the back and a kind word helped me foster meaningful relationships both in and out of the business world.
Gratitude Strengthens Mental Fortitude
Coming to terms with and overcoming trauma requires incredibly hard work, a strong support system, and y’all guessed it – gratitude. A study from Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam veterans with higher levels of gratitude had lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Another study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology discovered that practicing gratitude was also a significant contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Now, I know I’m no psychologist, but if something as seemingly easy as practicing gratitude can help heal trauma, why not at least give it a try?
Start Practicing Gratitude Today
To call today’s world chaotic would be an understatement. We’re living in a country divided, We’re experiencing a pandemic and many of us are just trying to make it through the day in one piece.
Lord knows it isn’t easy, but whether you’re working to lead a Fortune 500 company, keep your small business afloat or be a rock for the people in your life, practicing gratitude and counting your blessings can help you find the peace and appreciation you need to survive and thrive this year and beyond.