Look anywhere nowadays and you’ll come across some proverb, quote or speaker advocating the virtues of being grateful. Whether from an ancient religious manuscript or a new-age blog post, gratitude is one of the most widely offered pieces of advice – and for good reason too. It has long been acknowledged that gratitude makes us happier and more optimistic, but recent research suggests that showing thanks can reach further than our emotional wellbeing.
One of the very real effects gratitude can have on our body is that it can help to induce us into a longer and more peaceful sleep. We all know that falling to sleep can be difficult at the best of times; for most of us it’s the perfect time for our brains to analyse every little problem, gripe or worry we have. Even if we manage to wrestle our anxieties into silence the chances of drifting off into a calm and pleasant sleep still isn’t guaranteed. Practising gratitude can stop this. A 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being found that writing in a gratitude journal before bed can improve our sleep. By consciously focusing on what we are grateful for as we fall asleep we reduce the level of anxiety our body feels and instead induce a state of calm contentedness. Over time, this practice forms as a habit making it easier for our body to calm down at the end of each day.
And it gets better, too. It turns out that a peaceful night’s sleep is just the beginning when it comes to being thankful. A study in The American Journal of Cardiology illustrated the beneficial effect being grateful has on our heart. It found that gratitude can decrease blood pressure and lower heart rate variability making our heart rate more stable and regular. So, by feeling appreciative we can contribute to the health of one of our most important and influential organs.
Whilst being grateful can improve the function of our heart and how we sleep, it also benefits our health as a whole. Our overall physical health sees a huge benefit from regular gratitude practice. A study published in Personality and Individual Differences stated that grateful people suffer from aches and pains less than those who do not consciously practice gratitude. Being grateful for our health also makes us more likely to look after ourselves when it fails.
So many of us only appreciate what we have when we no longer have it, yet it’s often too late to do anything about it. Appreciation as a way of life not only helps our body and mind function at optimum levels, but it also allows us to be thankful for all the things we would otherwise take for granted making us happier and more aware of our blessings. So it seems a little gratitude really does go a long way.