According to Harvard Health, the word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness (depending on the context). In some ways gratitude encompasses all of these meanings. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible.
The experience of gratitude has historically been a focus of several world religions. It has also been a topic of interest to ancient, medieval and modern philosophers, and continues to engage contemporary philosophers.
The systematic study of gratitude within psychology only began around the year 2000, possibly because psychology traditionally focused more on understanding distress than on understanding positive emotions. The study of gratitude within psychology has included the understanding of the short term experience of the emotion of gratitude (state gratitude), individual differences in how frequently people feel gratitude (trait gratitude), and the relationship between these two aspects, as well as the therapeutic benefits of gratitude.
Gratitude VS Indebtedness
Gratitude is not the same as indebtedness. While both emotions occur following help, indebtedness occurs when a person perceives that they are under an obligation to make some repayment of compensation for the aid. The emotions lead to different actions; indebtedness can motivate the recipient of the aid to avoid the person who has helped them, whereas gratitude can motivate the recipient to seek out their benefactor and to improve their relationship with them. When people are grateful, they don’t forget or refuse the negative part of life; they just see the good things about it.
Why Is Gratitude Important
There are many benefits of gratitude wither at personal , group or communal level. But we have chosen to adopt the benefits and importance of gratitude as shared by Amy Morin a psychotherapist and the international bestselling author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. According to her the importance of gratitude includes;
It improves physical health. Physical health represents one dimension of total well-being. The term refers to the state of your physical body and how well it’s operating. According to Amy, grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and they report feeling healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences. Not surprisingly, grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health. They exercise more often and are more likely to attend regular check-ups with their doctors, which is likely to contribute to further longevity.
It improves psychological health. Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Research and multiple studies confirms the link between gratitude and well-being. “The practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life,” said Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis and a leading scientific expert on the science of gratitude.
It enhances empathy and reduces aggression. Grateful people aren’t just kinder people, according to UK College of Arts & Sciences psychology Professor Nathan DeWall. They are also less aggressive. DeWall proves his point with five studies on gratitude as a trait and as a fleeting mood, discovering that giving thanks lowers daily aggression, hurt feelings and overall sensitivity.”If you count your blessings, you’re more likely to empathize with other people,” said the researcher who is more well-known for studying factors that increased aggression. “More empathic people are less aggressive.”
Opens the door to more relationships. Not only does saying “thank you” constitute good manners, but showing appreciation can help you win new friends, according to a 2014 study published in Emotion. The study, involved 70 university students who provided advice to a younger student. Some of those advice-givers were thanked for their advice. The study was designed to test a theory proposed two years ago to explain the benefits to individuals and society of the emotion of gratitude. This find-remind-and-bind theory suggests gratitude helps people develop new relationships (find), build on existing relationships (remind), and maintain both (bind).
It helps people sleep better. A Grateful thoughts can help you get a great night’s sleep. That’s the message of a recent study in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, led by psychology professor Nancy Digdon. In the study, writing in a gratitude journal for 15 minutes every evening helped students worry less at bedtime and sleep longer and better afterward. In their seminal research, psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough asked people with neuromuscular disorders to make nightly lists of things for which they were grateful. After three weeks, participants reported getting longer, more refreshing sleep. According to Robert A. Emmons “It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep.
It improves self-esteem. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased athlete’s self-esteem, which is an essential component to optimal performance. Results showed that athletes with higher levels of gratitude increased their self-esteem over time when they had higher affective trust in their coaches. Other studies have shown that gratitude reduces social comparisons. Rather than becoming resentful toward people who have more money or better jobs – which is a major factor in reduced self-esteem- grateful people are able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments.
It improves mental strength. Neuroscience research around gratitude proves that our mental health significantly improves as we learn to consistently be grateful. Gratefulness causes our brains to release more positive neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin and lessen the presence of the stress hormone, cortisol. A large study conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University showed that thankfulness predicted a significantly lower risk of major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, phobia, nicotine dependence, alcohol dependence and drug abuse. For years, research has shown gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma
Showing gratitude has the following mental health benefits:
- Expressing gratitude can improve your mood. People who regularly express gratitude for the positive things in their life are shown to be happier overall, leading to lower rates of stress and depression.
- Showing gratitude can make you more optimistic. Studies show that those who express gratitude regularly appear to have a more positive outlook on life.
- Sharing gratitude can improve social bonds. People have reported feeling more loved and more connected to others in their lives when they routinely practice gratitude or those around them practice gratitude.
- Practicing gratitude can improve your physical health. People who actively express gratitude tend to be more engaged in activities to take care of their physical health, like eating well and exercising. This leads to higher energy levels, better sleep and a stronger immune system, or the ability to fight off illness or infection which in the long run promotes optimum mental health. Gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders, and is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide. See: 8 Easy and Simple Ways to Practice Self Care
Summary of Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude
- Keeping a gratitude diary for two weeks produced sustained reductions in perceived stress (28 percent) and depression (16 percent) in health-care practitioners.
- Gratitude is related to 23 percent lower levels of stress hormones (cortisol).
- Practicing gratitude led to a 7-percent reduction in biomarkers of inflammation in patients with congestive heart failure.
- Two gratitude activities (counting blessings and gratitude letter writing) reduced the risk of depression in at-risk patients by 41 percent over a six month period.
- Dietary fat intake is reduced by as much as 25 percent when people are keeping a gratitude journal.
- A daily gratitude practice can decelerate the effects of neurodegeneration (as measured by a 9 percent increase in verbal fluency) that occurs with increasing age.
- Grateful people have 16 percent lower diastolic blood pressure and 10 percent lower systolic blood pressure compared to those less grateful.
- Grateful patients with Stage B asymptomatic heart failure were 16 percent less depressed, 20 percent less fatigued and 18 percent more likely to believe they could control the symptoms of their illness compared to those less grateful.
- Older adults administered the neuropeptide oxytocin showed a 12 percent increase in gratitude compared to those given a placebo
- Writing a letter of gratitude reduced feelings of hopelessness in 88 percent of suicidal inpatients and increased levels of optimism in 94 percent of them.
- Grateful people (including people grateful to God) have between 9-13 percent lower levels of Hemoglobin A1c, a key marker of glucose control that plays a significant role in the diagnosis of diabetes.
- Gratitude is related to a 10 percent improvement in sleep quality in patients with chronic pain, 76 percent of whom had insomnia, and 19 percent lower depression levels.