7 Benefits of Gratitude
Gratitude has been a powerful force in my life. I first stumbled upon its transformative power when I was neck deep in debt, unable to pay all of my bills and struggling to find community as a new mother. I remember days where it just felt like I was sitting in a stinky swamp of bad news and problems and I felt stuck. If you have ever found yourself sitting in your own swamp of problems and despair, let me encourage you to grab a pen and paper and start creating a list of everything you are thankful for in your life.
You may be wondering, How is writing down a list of things I am thankful for going to solve any of my problems? Can this list pay the bills or mend broken relationships? Can it magic away my depression?
While gratitude may not be able to directly or immediately solve those issues, it most definitely will help!
Here are 7 benefits of gratitude that I have observed in my life.
- Gratitude makes us happier
Science tells us that practicing gratitude releases serotonin and dopamine in the brain. These two neurotransmitters in the brain allow you to feel happy, content, and upbeat (1).
I remember when I was a new mom, my husband and I were struggling to pay all of the bills each month and I found myself living in dread of life. What if the car broke down? What if the water bill was higher than usual? What if I had an unexpected purchase come up? At that point in my life I was wrestling with some serious fear and depression over my life circumstances. I vividly remember getting fed up with feeling miserable all the time so I turned on some Christian worship music and I decided right then and there that I was going to make my mind up to be thankful for what I had and content with the life I was given rather than fretting over things out of my control that might not even happen. I chose to start a gratitude list. My challenge was to write 10 things I was thankful for each day. Sometimes, the days were hard and I really struggled to find good things I could write down. Sometimes my list looked a little like this: Coffee, my baby, my husband, food in the fridge, heater still working, a bed to sleep in, a podcast to listen to, a phone in my hand that works, a couch to sit on, the ability to cook meals. See I had a choice, I could look at my hand-me-down tattered old couch with discontentment because it was ugly and a little broken. Or I could see it as the blessing it was because I had a couch to sit down on and that was a whole lot nicer than having only the floor to sit on. I could be irritated that I had to cook breakfast, lunch, dinner, and all the snacks in between because I didn’t have money to buy any premade food, or I could choose to see the blessing in the fact that I had ingredients in the fridge and enough cooking skills to make delicious food for my family to enjoy. Gratitude taught me to see life differently. It taught me that no matter how bad I feel like I have it, I am still very very blessed. As a result of practicing gratitude and letting it shape my perspective on my life, I began to feel happier and more content with my life even though nothing about my circumstances changed at all. I still didn’t know how I was going to pay for all of the bills and put food on my table. I still didn’t have friends because I couldn’t afford the gas to go anywhere with anyone let alone the cost of whatever event or place they wanted to go to, but I was thankful for what I did have and because I made the choice to be thankful and practice gratitude, I was a happier person and that got me through years of disciplined living that would have felt dreary otherwise.
Matthew 6:22-23 says that “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”
I believe that this verse is talking about perspective. If you focus your perspective on God and the blessings he has given you and the lessons or discipline he is teaching you, your perspective will be full of light. In other words focusing on the goodness God has given you, rather than all of the things you want but don’t have allows you to be lighthearted, happy, and able to enjoy your life.
King Solomon said it like this in Ecclesiastes 5:19, “...God has given riches and wealth to every man, and He has enabled him to enjoy them, to accept his lot in life, and to rejoice in his labor. This is a gift from God.”
No matter how poor you are or feel you are, you have been given the gift of enjoying what you have and I believe it is a pathetic waste of that gift to walk in disappointment and depression when you could be walking in gratitude and enjoyment.
This leads me to the next benefit I have experienced from practicing gratitude.
- Gratitude helps us live generously
Because I see and appreciate my blessings, I now see that I am rich in areas of my life and so I am more inclined to give and help others. When I was first practicing daily gratitude, I was so poor I couldn’t pay all of my bills each month. Now, if you have ever found yourself in this situation, you might be thinking “how can you be generous when you don’t even have enough for yourself?” But generosity has never been about money. It's a spiritual posture that can easily show itself with gifts that cost money, but just because you’re poor doesn’t mean you have nothing to give. I’ll say that again! Just because you are financially poor doesn’t mean you have nothing to give.
I began looking at the people in my life and I would ask myself, how can I bless that person? Sometimes it was through faithfully lifting them up in prayer day in and day out. Other times, it was through acts of service, like babysitting on a Friday night so they could go on a date with their spouse, or taking family photos for them for free. I became aware of the many gifts God had given me, and so I used them to bless others. Do you know what happened as a result of my choosing to enjoy the life I had and also to add value to those around me? I became even happier with my life. It feels so good to help others and to feel like your life has purpose even when it’s not everything you had hoped it would be.
As a result of practicing gratitude, I began enjoying my life. Since I was able to visually see all of the blessings I had in my life through my gratitude journal, I felt rich and I chose to bless the people in my life that I cared about. When I started asking myself, “How can I bless others?” I found myself transforming again.
- Gratitude helped us be less selfish and more patient
When I practice gratitude daily, I can see that my life is blessed and that frees up my brain to think about others, instead of constantly worrying if I’ll have enough. I was operating in a wealth mindset rather than a poverty mindset and because of this I found my relationships bloom and grow. I was easier to be around because I wasn’t constantly thinking and talking about my lack of money or resources. I found that I was less selfish with my time, my prayers, and my resources. I also found that because I wasn’t constantly focused on my problems, I was kinder and more patient with my son and husband. I was amazed at how something as small as writing down 10 things I was thankful for each day was transforming all aspects of my life. Jesus didn’t live and die so that I would be miserable until I finally died and went to heaven. God wants us to delight in the life we have because it enables us to live generously and to be more like Christ!
Christ was not wealthy in money. But he was wealthy in spirit and he gave freely. He was the purest form of love on display and his life demonstrates what living with eyes fixed on the source of light looks like.
- Gratitude reduces stress and worry
I just love when scientists can offer proof of what God has been trying to tell us since the beginning. The bible tells us in Proverbs 17:22 that “a joyful heart is good medicine but a broken spirit dries up the bones.”
When we choose to acknowledge the gifts and wealth God has blessed us with we are enabled to enjoy our lives as they are and this produces joy. A person who is filled with joy isn’t consumed with anxiety, worry, or fear.
Scientific research is now confirming that practicing gratitude has long-lasting impacts on the brain and body. It is able to decrease the impact and effects of anxiety, depression, and stress on the body and mind (2).
Like a good medicine going to work, it reduces the impact of these emotional blights on your body. I know firsthand how refreshed I felt when I first noticed how instead of waking up with dread over what the day might bring, I woke up with gratitude for what I had and the coping skills I had to overcome obstacles. One of my daily affirmations that I speak over myself in the morning is “Lord, thank you for this day. I know that I have excellent coping skills and that I am equipped to handle every circumstance that comes my way.” Now, there are a lot of days that give my “excellent coping skills” a run for their money. But by acknowledging this gift from God in gratitude I have been amazed at how many hard days I have conquered. There are still many life circumstances that threaten me with stress and worry, but gratitude, like a good medicine, keeps those symptoms in check.
- Gratitude improves sleep quantity and quality
I have always struggled with my sleep. My mind seems to kick into hyperdrive the moment I close my eyes for bed. Suddenly, I can’t shake the list of things I forgot to do, or should have handled differently from my mind and then before I know it I have run down the longest and most random rabbit trail of my failures throughout my life. I read somewhere that doing your gratitude journal at night can help your body relax and fall asleep easier. And while I’ll be honest, I don’t do my gratitude journal at night on most days, I do find that when I am struggling with insomnia, going over my gratitude list instead of my list of failures has been a huge help in getting my body and brain to relax into a deep sleep. I have also found that I sleep better because I’m not as worried or stressed out. There is less cortisol running through my body and so I am able to a get better quality of sleep. Gratitude tells me that I have an abundance of blessings and that God will work things out in my life so that even if tomorrow brings trial, I will be ok.
- Gratitude produces a sense of security
I can’t control a lot of things in my life. But when I choose to walk in gratitude, I find that I have peace and security in the midst of ever changing life circumstances. I find that writing down the blessings and the good things I have been given allow me to enjoy my life one day at a time, and to be happy in each and every day. I love the Serenity Prayer. I think Reinhold Niebuhr really understood the power of gratitude and surrender in his life to be able to write such a powerful prayer. His prayer goes like this:
“God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;
taking, as Jesus did,
this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it;
trusting that You will make all things right
if I surrender to Your will;
so that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.”
Even on the hardest days, I am always able to write down these two things that I am thankful for: God is with me in this moment, and I have a secure home in Heaven waiting for me. Walking in gratitude has helped me be content with my life and has given me a deep rooted sense of security that isn’t contingent upon my life circumstances.
- Gratitude enables us to live fully
Even before I knew about the abundance of scientific studies that confirm this, I have found that gratitude makes me more productive, more intentional, more empathetic towards others and kinder to myself. I have a clear perspective of my life and therefore I am able to live more fully. Gratitude makes you more motivated to eat healthy, exercise, take care of yourself and your responsibilities. It enables you to persevere when things are hard. Gratitude makes your body better at handling stress and inflammation so you are actually healthier and have a stronger immune system. With all these incredible and life changing reasons to practice gratitude on a daily basis, it makes sense that during November, when cold and flu season are rampant, the grateful and content people seem to escape getting sick the most! But this isn’t luck. It’s the transformative power of obeying God and living in gratitude.