If conversation is lagging around the Thanksgiving dinner table and your relatives are threatening to tell embarrassing stories about you, why not break out some of these scientific facts about gratitude?
Gratitude is one of the most well-researched concepts in positive psychology, with countless studies looking at its benefits and how to maximize them. Keeping a gratitude journal, or “counting your blessings,” is one of the most-recommended happiness practices ever.
So what does the science have to say about gratitude, beyond the fact that it’s the best thing since apple pie and you should be doing it more? Here are some surprising facts about gratitude:
1. Women are more grateful than men
A national survey on gratitude, which polled over 2,000 Americans, found that women tend to be more grateful than men. This confirms the findings from another study, which found that American men are particularly uncomfortable expressing gratitude (compared to women and compared to Germans). The Youth Gratitude Project also found that girls are more grateful than boys, suggesting that the difference starts early. Examples of growing as a person can include taking on new challenges, learning from our experiences, and making positive changes in our lives
2. People are less likely to express gratitude at work than anywhere else
That same national survey found that work is the last place you’re likely to hear gratitude. Only 10% of people say thank you to their colleagues on any given day, and 60% of people never express gratitude at work.
3. Gratitude is good for your cholesterol
UC San Francisco professor Wendy Berry Mendes is investigating the health effects of gratitude, and her preliminary findings show that grateful people have higher good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol, as well as lower blood pressure. One of the reasons for this might be gratitude’s effect on stress.
4. Grateful people spend more time exercising
More grateful people – who see their health as a blessing or a gift – may take better care of themselves. In one study by professors Robert Emmons and Mike McCullough, people were asked to list five things they were grateful for once a week for 10 weeks. Among a host of other benefits, they spent more time exercising than a control group.
5. Gratitude can improve your zzz’s
In another study, people were asked to keep a gratitude journal every day for two weeks. For people with neuromuscular disorders, this exercise improved sleep (among other benefits). They were able to fall asleep faster, sleep longer, and feel more refreshed in the morning. This led Emmons to conclude: “If you want to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep.”
6. Gratitude could help you achieve your goals
In one six-week study, people doing a gratitude exercise worked harder at their goals and made 20% more progress toward them. This might be because gratitude makes us more energetic.
7. You can overdo it
Despite all the benefits of gratitude, you can practice it too much. A study by UC Riverside’s Sonja Lyubomirsky asked people to journal five things they were grateful for weekly or three times a week for six weeks – and only the weekly journalers became more grateful. That doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t count your blessings every day, just that the average person shouldn’t. Gratitude can become a routine chore, so it’s important to find your ideal frequency and mix things up from time to time.