Surprising health benefits of expressing gratitude

The ancient Roman statesman Cicero said, “Gratitude is the greatest of all virtues and the parent of all the others.”

Indeed, expressing gratitude regularly can help you build positive, lasting relationships with your friends, spouse, family members, and community.

And now, according to a fascinating, new study, you could experience a surprising new health benefit in a remarkably short amount of time…

Ancient practice improves mental health

For this new study, U.S. researchers recruited nearly 300 college-age students who were seeking mental health counseling. On average, the students reported having clinically low levels of mental health.

To start, the researchers randomly divided the students into three groups…

  • The first group received psychotherapy and wrote one letter of gratitude to another person each week for three weeks.
  • The second group received psychotherapy and wrote expressively in a journal about their deepest thoughts and stressful experiences.
  • The third group (control group) only received psychotherapy.

Well, it turns out, the students who wrote letters of gratitude had “significantly better” mental health after four weeks and 12 weeks…compared to the expressive writing group and the control group.

Plus, when the researchers dug a bit deeper into why students who wrote gratitude letters experienced such boosts in mental health, they found some interesting points…

First, the gratitude letters included a higher percentage of positive emotions and “we” words than the expressive writing.

Second, they used fewer negative emotions. In fact, the researchers believe the LACK of negative emotion explains WHY the gratitude writing group did so well.

And the third point is particularly interesting…

Gratitude works, even if you don’t speak it

The researchers told the gratitude letter writers they didn’t need to mail the letters to their intended recipients. In fact, only 23 percent of them actually mailed their letters.

Yet, they still reaped the mental health benefits!

In the end, this study gives us another great reason to practice gratitude regularly.

Here are some ideas for how you can express the “greatest of all virtues”:

  • Write gratitude letters, even if you don’t actually send them.
  • Keep a daily gratitude journal.
  • Practice some daily mindfulness meditation that expresses gratitude.
  • Spend more time volunteering for a cause close to your heart.
  • Smile more and say thank you regularly to co-workers, family members, and people you come across during the day.
  • Fill a jar with notes about things for which you’re grateful. Then, on a bad day, take a note out of the jar to remind you
  • Pay it forward, if you can, by footing the bill for a stranger’s coffee, lunch, or gas.
  • Stop and notice the beauty of the world around you when exercising out in Nature.
  • Give at least one compliment to someone daily.

Gratitude is also a key feature in mindfulness meditation, as I describe in my book with Don McCown, New World Mindfulness.