If you’re experiencing small amounts of stress, one study now shows that exercising gratitude can reduce that stress.
What a new study says about stress and gratitude
A new study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology measured the relationship of gratitude to stress via blood pressure levels. The study was performed by researchers from two universities in Ireland, Maynooth University and the University of Limerick.
During the study, 68 adults had their baseline blood pressure measured. Then, they were given a short task that led to acute stress. Researchers again measured blood pressure and tested what happened when participants experienced state gratitude — feeling thankful as opposed to an individual expression of gratitude — during the recovery period. The study confirmed that when experiencing relatively small amounts of stress, exercising gratitude has a unique effect of lowering blood pressure.
The study found that gratitude has an ability to lower stress across different age groups, meaning that it’s universally true. The study found that gratitude aided in something called affect balance — the amount of positive thoughts versus negative thoughts. Gratitude generated more positive thoughts and balanced blood pressure, according to the results of the study.
What constituted both affect balance and state gratitude was measured by a survey before and after the stressful task.
What are the health benefits of gratitude?
Gratitude has a myriad of health benefits.
As I wrote for the Deseret News, regularly exercising gratitude can lead to better health and better relationships. Reducing stress isn’t the only benefit gratitude has for relieving pressures that arise from mental health challenges. Writing for Greater Good Magazine, a pair of Indiana University professors wrote that counting your blessings can mitigate depression. Their research found that even though the benefits of gratitude (such as experiencing fewer negative emotions) can take some time to experience, gratitude can change our brains.
These positive impacts of gratitude have been widely documented in scientific literature. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, gratitude can be a positive expression that helps drive away negativity and can bring your mind to focus on the present. While gratitude won’t completely remove or negate pain, it can offer a small amount of relief.
One study available on the National Library Center of Medicine database determined that a disposition of gratitude — perhaps more plainly described as an attitude of gratitude — had overall physical health benefits and led to greater emotional stability and optimism. Another study even found that gratitude led patients who previously had heart failure to experience better cardiac function along with a better mood.
Gratitude has also correlated with better habits. According to a study published by the American Psychological Association, teenagers who expressed gratitude were less likely to abuse alcohol and drugs. Another study available on the National Library of Medicine found that gratitude played a key role in substance addiction recovery for adults.
Gratitude has another positive impacts such as positive relationship outcomes. In a 2008 study, researchers measured the role of gratitude in relationships in sororities. They looked at Big Sisters and Little Sisters — Big Sisters are mentors assigned to new members, who are called Little Sisters. This study found that mutual expressions of gratitude led to better relationships between individuals.
How to become a grateful person
While it’s clear that gratitude can be positively transformative, it’s not always clear how to implement gratitude in your life.
It may take some experimentation to find which strategies work best for you. Here are some examples of what you can do to become more grateful.
1. Make a gratitude journal
A gratitude journal can be a great way to express gratitude daily. It doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavor — purchase a composition notebook and a pen. Then, every day, write down some things you can express gratitude for in your life. Looking back at your entries on days where it’s harder to write can help get your mind flowing again, too.
2. Make a gratitude jar
Take a mason jar and label it “gratitude jar.” Then, keep slips of paper next to it and write down something that you are grateful for while watching the jar fill up. When the jar is full, consider emptying it and reading everything that you wrote.
3. Set reminders on your phone
Sometimes it’s hard to find the time to write something down. Pick a consistent time every day where you set an alarm on your phone and next spend a couple minutes thinking of all the things that you are grateful for. This will help you develop a habit that it’s as ingrained in your daily life as washing your hands or eating dinner.
4. Write a weekly gratitude letter
A weekly gratitude letter can be a great way to both journal and express gratitude. Consider picking a slow afternoon on the weekend or when you have time off and then writing a letter about the previous week, reflecting on all that you can be grateful for. This weekly expression of gratitude can help you be optimistic going into the next week.
5. Think about your daily attitude
Sometimes we can all fall into a bit of a rut where we don’t express gratitude and positivity. Look at daily expressions of negativity and see if you can replace them with expressions of gratitude.
6. Pray or meditate
Prayer and meditation can be a great way to incorporate more gratitude into your life. Both prayer and meditation offer concentrated focus on things that we can be grateful for.
7. Contribute positively to the world
The late Elder Neal A. Maxwell, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, once said, “We should certainly count our blessings, but we should also make our blessings count.” When we express gratitude, we can also find ways to put our talents and resources to work to help our neighbor. This can contribute to feeling more grateful as well.