The Cognitive Benefits of Gratitude

Tell me, when was the last time you complained about something?

Be honest, I’m not here to judge you. The last time I complained was this morning. It’s easy to complain, and in some ways, it feels good to do. It’s a verbal expression of our slight discomfort, an acknowledgment and accusal of something we felt we were wronged by, even if it was by only the slightest degree.

But complaining, like most things in life, can be dangerous in excess. Become a glutton of complaint and soon enough your brain will have carved a neural pathway where the most natural response to most circumstances is to complain about those circumstances, making your life far more difficult than it really needs to be.

This is something far too many of us already do without even realizing it.

Gratitude, on the other hand, has the opposite effect.

When you choose to be grateful for the good things in your life, rather than complaining about every little hardship, things start to stack up. You begin to consider how valuable the things you choose to be grateful for really are, and how trivial most things you tend to complain about might be.

After all, what do most of us tend to be grateful for when we really stop and think about it? Our families, our friends, our health, our minds, our talents or skills.

Although it’s true that some are more fortunate than others, most of us can find at least one genuine reason to be grateful.

The opposite is often true when it comes to complaining. Many of us complain, few of us actually have genuine reasons to do so.

Revealing the Benefits of Gratitude

Two Psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons (University of California, Davis) and Dr. Michael E. McCullough (University of Miami) did a pretty cool study regarding the positive benefits of consistent gratitdue.

They took three groups, and each group had to write a few sentences each week regarding the state of their lives during that particular time. The groups were split up as follows:

  1. Only wrote about occurences and experiences they felt grateful for.
  2. Only wrote about inconveniences and slight annoyances.
  3. Wrote about events as objectively as possible, without any emphasis on positive or negative influence.

After 10 weeks, those who wrote about their gratitude generally felt more positive and optimistic about their lives than both the negative and neutral groups. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those that wrote about sources of negativity in their lives.

Now, keep in mind that studies such as this can’t be considered definitive for determining cause and effect when it comes to those involved and the results there after, but mot studies dealing with an individuals response to gratitude almost always result in a greater sense of well being, very strongly suggesting a direct correlation.

A Short List of Practical Ways to Cultivate Gratitude

So lets say for convenience sake that over the course of reading the last 484 words I successfully convinced you that you might benefit from trying this whole gratitude thing. Here’s some places you can start:

  1. Exercise — I’ve written about exercise a few times and will probably preach the importance of it until I die. Exercise is one of the simpilest and most effective things you can do in improving your overall well being. And, I promise, stick with it and you won’t be able to help but feel grateful for the difference you’ll notice in how you look and feel.
  2. Meditation —Your mind is a powerful force, and meditation is the best way you can learn to harness and cultivate that force. Meditation not only teaches you how to focus, but it teaches you how to stay grounded in the present and not latch on to negative thoughts as they come into your awareness.
  3. Writing — Chances are high if you’re on Medium reading this article, than you probably already also write. But even if you’re not a writer, keeping a simple journal or jotting down a few sentences once a week like the test group above can have massive benefits on your over all well being and sense of gratitude.

These are three simple ways you can begin to feel more grateful relatively quickly. Just implement one of these methods consistently for even just a week, and I promise that when you begin to feel better, you’ll begin seeing more to be grateful for, and the rest of your life will be better because of it.

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