As a child, you were probably taught that you should be grateful for what you have and for what people do for you. It is not an unfamiliar idea, but it is sometimes difficult to always show gratitude. Even when you don’t act ungrateful, just feeling that way can be a problem.
What you may not realize is that feeling ungrateful can actually be detrimental to your well-being. One aspect of showing gratitude that you may not have been taught is that it improves your life in many ways. Before discussing how being grateful improves your life, however, it is important to understand what it really means to feel gratitude.
What It Means to Be Grateful
It is difficult to definitively explain what gratitude is. Gratitude has been described as many things including “an emotion, an attitude, a moral virtue, a habit, a personality trait, or a coping response.” Professionals have not been able to agree upon a single definition for it, so it can sometimes be tricky to understand.
When it comes to being grateful, it isn’t just something that you feel or show when you receive a gift or when someone does something nice for you. It is a feeling you can have over even minor parts of your day, such as being grateful you have a warm sweater to put on when you get cold.
Instead of focusing on the negative parts of your life, when you are grateful, you will focus more on all the positive parts. When bad things do happen, you will still find the good in your life.
How Being Grateful Can Improve Your Life
Feeling and showing gratitude can improve your life in more ways than you think. It isn’t as simple as feeling happy at that moment. Gratitude can increase your overall well-being, improve your mindset, and even make you healthier.
Studies have actually shown that people who show gratitude more frequently tend to live longer than those who do not. Those who are happier and show their appreciation more often live up to 10 years longer. They also have a much lower chance of developing heart disease.
Some of the more specific ways that showing gratitude can improve your life include:
- Feeling more positive emotions
- Feeling more energetic and lively
- Sleeping easier and more peacefully
- Strengthening and/or repairing relationships
- You may get sick less often
- You may be more kind
- Appreciating and loving yourself more
- Feeling happier
- Being more patient
Showing that you are grateful for someone can repair or strengthen your relationship.
Even if it is just by spending time with another person, showing gratitude for them can benefit your relationship immensely. It will allow that person to see they are a meaningful part of your life.
Having strong, healthy relationships generally leads to being happier, so this is a great way to improve your life and show your gratitude at the same time. It may also help you cope with stress in a better way.
By showing gratitude to your spouse or children, you are strengthening your bond with them. Studies have shown that showing appreciation for your spouse can lead to longer marriages than for those who do not show gratitude. Additionally, when you show gratitude to your children, they are learning how much you truly appreciate and love them.
You learn to appreciate yourself more.
When you begin to realize how thankful you are for the things and people around you, you will also begin to notice your own great qualities more. You may begin to love things about yourself that you used to hate, and you’ll begin to feel more confident and comfortable with yourself.
You will feel happier.
Studies have shown that feeling grateful leads to less depression and stress. When you think about the positive things in your life instead of focusing on the bad, the bad parts aren’t so difficult to handle anymore. When things start to seem overwhelming, think of something that went well for you today.
You will be more patient.
When you spend your time being thankful for the little things in life, you will generally be calmer and able to make more sound decisions. One article shares that those who show gratitude are often more composed, as well.
How You Can Teach Yourself to Have More Gratitude
Grateful people aren’t perfect. They still have bad days and moments when they could have shown more gratitude for how a situation played out. The difference is that they do not make it a habit to focus on the negative.
In order to change your mindset and become the type of person who doesn’t have a habit of thinking negatively, you have to continuously work at it. Instead of focusing on what went wrong in your day, try to form habits that help you feel appreciative of the little things in your life.
Some of the ways you can teach yourself how to have more gratitude include:
1. Say “thank you” for even small favors.
When someone does something for you, even just a small gesture, you should show your appreciation by thanking them. By making a conscious effort to do so, you will be reminding yourself that the other person was thinking about you. In turn, you will remember to feel gratitude for that situation.
2. Think about the things in your life that you are the most thankful for.
If you are ever having trouble feeling gratitude, make a mental (or even physical) list of all the things in your life that you are thankful for. It could be simple things like shoes to wear, to larger things such as a roof over your head. You could even think about things outside such as flowers blooming or the snow falling from the sky.
Going further than that, you can think of the meaningful things in your life that you are thankful for. This could be a smile from your child, a hug from a loved one, or even an old letter from someone who is now gone.
3. Remind yourself that there is always something to be thankful for.
As mentioned before, you can be appreciative of the smaller parts of life as well as the big parts. When something goes wrong, allow yourself to think about all the good that you still have in your life. By shifting your mindset to something more positive, you may be able to start feeling gratitude again quickly.
4. Write in a journal.
It isn’t necessary to write in a journal every day, but you should do it a couple of times a week. Spend 10-15 minutes (or longer if you want) writing about the things in your life that bring you joy or contentment.
While it is useful to mentally think about these things each day, it is equally important to write them down regularly. Studies have found that writing it down can lead to even more feelings of gratitude.
5. Do something nice for someone else.
It is easy to show gratitude when you receive an unexpected gift or favor. Being thankful for being the recipient of a gift or favor can fade quickly, however, and soon be forgotten. When you are the one giving the gift or favor, though, the feeling of happiness and gratitude will last much longer.
One way to make a habit of this is to return the favor to someone else every time something nice is done for you. Send flowers to your mom, compliment the cashier at your local grocery store, or hold the door open for someone. All of these things will help you appreciate life a little more, as well. This is because making other people happy has a way of boosting your emotions.
6. Volunteer for a worthy cause.
When you have empathy for a cause, you can offer to help out in some way. By using your talents to help others, you will feel more peaceful and reflective, which leads to feeling more gratitude for your own life and well-being.
7. Make it fun.
You can make it a fun activity to show gratitude, making it an even more positive part of your life. Derrick Carpenter from Happify Daily mentions an activity that could help you feel more gratitude for small moments throughout the day. When something good happens or someone does something nice for you, write it down on a slip of paper and put it into a “gratitude jar.”