Dr. Acacia Parks shares the evidence behind being grateful and your overall health.
Being thankful is overwhelmingly brought to our attention each November leading up to Thanksgiving. However, according to Acacia Parks, Ph.D. Psychology and Chief Scientist at Happify, evidence proves that it would be beneficial to our overall health and outlook if we got into the practice of being grateful the other eleven months of the year, too. We asked Dr. Parks to share some specific ways expressing gratitude can benefit our relationships, mental health, attitude, and even life expectancy.
SL: It sounds crazy, but is it true that counting your blessings could give you more energy?
Dr. Parks: Yes! A classic study found that writing down everything you are grateful for once a week every week helps people feel more energetic. Subsequent research has looked at daily gratitude activities (keeping a journal of positive daily events before bed, to set the tone for sleep) and has found similar benefits.
SL: Is there any correlation between being grateful and a person's life expectancy?
Dr. Parks: Research finds that experiencing positive emotion frequently over the course of a lifetime can quite dramatically increase life expectancy. Gratitude activities are one of the most reliable and research-documented ways to increase positive emotion.
SL: What about the effect of gratitude on relationships?
Dr. Parks: Gratitude is related to relationship formation (meaning that many relationships are first formed because one person has done something nice for the other), and it also predicts positive relationship outcomes in both platonic and romantic relationships.
SL: This certainly would make a difference in one's outlook on life and their mental health—right?
Dr. Parks: Yes—research shows that within 4-6 months, practicing gratitude regularly can have a positive impact on mental health, even reducing depressive symptoms.
SL: Is there any correlation between keeping a gratitude journal and overall general health?
Dr. Parks: Yes! The best outcome is sleep quality. People who keep a regular sleep journal report sleeping better and waking up more rested. Sleep plays a central role to all sorts of important body systems, including memory, healing, and immunity. Better quality sleep could potentially improve all of those things. Some research has found that people report fewer physical symptoms after practicing gratitude regularly, which backs up this idea. Gratitude is probably the single most thoroughly researched method for improving well-being. It works!
The facts are in and the Doctor has spoken. We'll be dishing out an extra serving of gratefulness this year—who's with us?