The world is not the same as before. As the current pandemic spreads, negative information is all around us. Now more than ever, it is a lot easier for us to overlook the good that surrounds us and focus on the bad.
Unfortunately, human beings are wired to pay attention to the negative. We suffer from something called negativity bias; this means that we are primed to pay more attention to the negative aspects of a situation. This wiring is more of a survival instinct and is most definitely not a bad thing — after all, when we recognize something dangerous or threatening in our environment, we are more likely to take action to deal with it. At the same time, this bias can get in the way of our happiness.
Decades of research suggests that negative attitudes and feelings can adversely impact your mental and physical health. Scientists have even found that stress can affect our chromosomes in a way that causes us to age more quickly. This, in turn, shortens our lifespan. Additionally, studies have also found that negative feelings can cause abnormal immune system functioning and hormonal imbalances in the body.
Gratitude: a buffer
One of the easiest ways to protect your mind and body from the negative effects of stress is by practising gratitude. According to the Cambridge dictionary, gratitude can be defined as “a strong feeling of appreciation to someone or something for what the person has done to help you.”
Being grateful comes with a host of different benefits that can serve to make your life more meaningful. Studies show that expressing gratitude can boost social interactions, reduce depression and anxiety, and even increase resilience in the face of stress. Individuals who express gratitude are more likely to have lower blood pressure, better immune system functioning and improved quality of sleep. In fact, they’ve also been found to become more attentive, generous, and compassionate towards others.
Let’s look at the benefits of gratitude in detail.
Gratitude improves your relationships
Gratitude makes you appreciate things others do for you. It helps you become aware of the generosity of the giver. Expressing this gratefulness can help other people feel valued and cared for, and this in turn can boost your relationships. Feeling connected to others can in turn increase your happiness even further.
Gratitude makes you less materialistic
Research shows that being materialistic reduces your ability to acknowledge the good in life. But the good news is that you can override this with gratitude! When you start valuing what you already have rather than constantly wanting more, you let go of materialistic desires that label you as entitled and privileged.
Gratitude boosts your self-esteem
Becoming aware of the good that surrounds you can help you let go of insecure feelings that make you feel low. Moreover, when you are kind to other people they will most likely express the same emotion towards you in return. This creates a sense of satisfaction which automatically contributes to a healthy self-esteem.
Gratitude makes you less self-focused
While thinking about yourself is certainly not a bad thing, focusing on nothing but your own happiness and interests can be problematic. Practising gratitude makes you become more compassionate and empathetic towards how others feel. Helping others feel valued, in turn, has a positive impact on your own well-being.
When it comes to gratitude, even something as small as saying “Thank you” can make a big difference. The key to building a gratitude habit is to practise appreciating others regularly — whether that’s writing a thank-you letter to a colleague, getting a meaningful gift for your family member or simply smiling at a loved one.
When you can open your eyes and become aware of things that are positive in this world or in your life, you will experience a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment. This doesn’t mean that you live in a state of denial and ignore the negatives. Instead, in the midst of all the negativity and chaos, gratitude can help you remember all the good things that life has in store for you.
Deccan Chronicle. (2018, March 06). 5 things that will make you happier according to science. Retrieved from https://www.deccanchronicle.com/lifestyle/health-and-wellbeing/050318/5-things-that-will-make-you-happier-according-to-science.html
GRATITUDE | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/gratitude
Hacking Into Your Happy Chemicals: Dopamine, Serotonin, Endorphins, & Oxytocin. (2016, July 27). Retrieved from http://theutopianlife.com/2014/10/14/hacking-into-your-happy-chemicals-dopamine-serotonin-endorphins-oxytocin/
How Do Thoughts and Emotions Affect Health? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/how-do-thoughts-and-emotions-affect-health
Ocean Robbins. (2011, November 04). The Neuroscience of Why Gratitude Makes Us Healthier. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/having-gratitude_b_1073105?ec_carp=8762552659325640359
Young, K. (2017, March 10). The Science of Gratitude – How it Changes People, Relationships (and Brains!) and How to Make it Work For You. Retrieved from https://www.heysigmund.com/the-science-of-gratitude/