Updated: Jan 13
Do you often think that you are not good enough at your sport or that your relationships with your teammates or coaches are not satisfying? Do you spend an inordinate amount of time scrolling through social media wishing you had what other people supposedly have? Are you looking outwards with envy and inwards with disappointment?
If so you may benefit from gratitude practices. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what you have, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, you acknowledge the goodness in your life. In the process, you begin to realize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside of yourself. As a result, gratitude also helps connect you to something larger than yourself — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.
Gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Below are just a few ways in which gratitude can help improve your performance and your life.
1.. Gratitude improves sleep. Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you may sleep better and longer.
2. Gratitude improves physical health. Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences. Not surprisingly, grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health. They exercise more often and are more likely to attend regular check-ups, which is likely to contribute to further longevity.
3. Gratitude increases happiness and reduces depression. Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert Emmons, a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being.
4. Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. Grateful people are more likely to behave in a prosocial manner, even when others behave less kindly, according to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky. Study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.
5. Gratitude opens the door to forging new relationships. Not only does saying “thank you” constitute good manners, but showing appreciation can help you win new friends or connections, according to a 2014 study published in Emotion. The study found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship. So whether you thank the opposing team for a hard fought game or write a thank-you note to coach who helped you with developing a new skill, acknowledging other people’s contributions can lead to new opportunities.
6. Gratitude improves self-esteem. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased athletes’ self-esteem, an essential component to optimal performance. Other studies have shown that gratitude reduces social comparisons. Rather than becoming resentful toward people who have more money or better jobs—a major factor in reduced self-esteem—grateful people are able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments.
7. Gratitude increases mental strength. For years, research has shown gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma. A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. Recognizing all that you have to be thankful for —even during the worst times—fosters resilience.
In addition, gratitude can also help you strengthen current relationships, relish good experiences, and overcome adversity.
Gratitude holds its roots in evolutionary biology. It is theorized that individuals who showed gratitude were more likely to survive (easy to see why if you read above). Our brains are wired for reward and what greater reward is there than creating social bonds and feeling better about our lives?
You can feel and express gratitude in multiple ways. You can apply it to the past (retrieving positive memories from childhood), the present (not taking a beautiful day for granted), and the future (maintaining a hopeful and optimistic attitude). Regardless of your current level of gratitude, it's a quality that you can improve upon with daily practice. There are countless examples of athletes utilizing gratitude as a tool for their success. Take for example, 15 year NFL veteran and current quarterback for the Washington Football Team, Alex Smith. Alex just recently made his return to the playing field nearly 2 years after he broke the tibia and fibula in his right leg, sustaining both spiral and compound fractures that required 17 surgeries to repair, and later an infection that doctors feared could have led to amputation. When asked about this grueling recovery process Alex always goes back to highlighting how important it was to maintain gratitude and a positive attitude. He states, "through it all, we talk about controlling what you can control and the number one thing is attitude."
So are you ready to start cultivating that positive attitude, that gratitude? Below are simple gratitude practices that you can try today.
Thank someone for something, anything. Tell them in person, write a thank-you note, send a text message, DM someone, give someone a call.
Give yourself a compliment or 2 in the mirror every morning upon waking up. This is a great way to garner positive momentum for the day.
Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down 3 things you are grateful for each night before bed or at the very least once per week. Mix it up by including something about someone in your life, something about yourself and something else out there in the world. For example, I may write down that I am thankful for my thoughtful spouse, that I was raised a Steeler’s fan and that there are term limits for presidents.
Pray. People who are religious can use nightly prayer to cultivate gratitude.
Go on a gratitude mindfulness walk. Take your mental fitness game to the next level with this simple 2 in 1 exercise. Bring your attention to the present moment by naming the things you observe that you are grateful for during your walk. For example, I may be walking through a park here in Los Angeles and feel grateful for the big fig trees that provide shade from the sun, the vibrant violet flowers that provide a pleasant smell, the ocean breeze on my face, the ability to feel the ground beneath my feet or that the homeless man has a peaceful place to rest.
So go ahead and refocus your attention to the positives in life.
Related podcast episodes:
For a dope (Kurzgesagt) video explanation on how gratitude can help please visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPPPFqsECz0&t=4s
The above blog post was adapted from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201504/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-gratitude