The health benefits of being grateful

Lesley Dobson / 30 September 2015 ( 30 November 2017 )

Being deliberately aware of the good things in life may boost wellbeing.



Exercise, a healthy diet, good sleeping patterns – we know that all of these are good for us and help us live healthier lives. But there is another, simple way, to put some sunshine back in your life, and it won’t cost a penny.

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Be grateful, and show it. It doesn’t take much effort - say something nice to those closest to you, say thank you whenever you get the chance and smile at people you meet during your day.

It may sound ridiculously simple, but studies are increasingly finding that being grateful improves our health, both mentally and physically, and can build stronger bonds with our families and friends.

In one set of studies, carried out by Robert Emmons of the University of California, and Michael McCullough of the University of Miami, those taking part were divided into three groups.

One set were asked to focus on hassles, another on gratitude and a third on neutral events in their lives. All then kept either a weekly or daily diary of their moods, health behaviour, coping behaviour, physical symptoms, and general comments on life.

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Another, similar, study carried out by the same experts, involved people with neuromuscular disease, who were placed in either gratitude groups, or control groups with no changes involved.

The gratitude groups in all three studies showed increased well-being, compared to those in the comparison groups.

The results suggested that deliberately being aware of the good things in life may improve how we feel in terms of our own emotions and how we react with other people.

There are other benefits linked to being grateful. Study results indicate that feelings of gratitude mean that we feel better, with fewer symptoms of physical illness, sleep better and for longer, are more optimistic and exercise more.

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Other potential benefits of being grateful include:

a) Having stronger friendships and social bonds

b) Being more likely to offer other people support

c) Having greater resources to cope with stress and difficult times

d) Being more likely to feel loved and cared for by family and friends

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Want to give your feelings of gratitude a boost? Here’s how to get started

Keep a gratitude diary. Just doing this has been found to improve mood, and make you feel good.

Every day (evenings are a good time, as you can look back at your day), make a note of three things that you feel grateful for. It can be something big – the birth of a grandchild, for instance, or simply giving thanks for having a good life. 

1. It can also be something small, seeing your other half smile when you gave them a hug, a phone call from a friend, sunshine, listening to a favourite piece of music, or a really good cup of tea.

2. Let the people you care for know that they matter to you, and that having them in your life makes it better.

3. Take a moment to think about how showing gratitude has affected those around you. Feeling good? You deserve it.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.