To say that the inhabitants of the Blue Zones know a thing or two about living well would be an understatement. Not only are they known to be the longest-living people on earth, but they lead abundant and fulfilling lives at that.
While each Blue Zone is unique in how exactly they go about their health-promoting daily doings, they share several key commonalities—including not (but limited to) sticking to a plant-forward diet, prioritizing regular movement, and maintaining strong connections to friends, family, and their community at large. Another underlying factor that links the Blue Zones together is their habitual expression of gratitude, whether before eating meals or on an otherwise consistent basis.
According to Blue Zones expert Dan Buettner, gratitude always comes into play in the world’s longevity hot spots. “Research shows that people are happier if they are grateful for the positive things in their lives, rather than worrying about what might be missing,” he shares in his book Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way.
Keep reading to see how gratitude is linked to happier days that can culminate into a long life well-lived. Plus: simple yet productive ways to reap (and share) the benefits of gratitude on the daily.
The longevity-boosting benefits of gratitude are bountiful
According to a 2019 study published in Frontiers in Psychology, gratitude and life satisfaction have a reciprocal relationship: “Higher levels of gratitude increase life satisfaction, which in turn increases gratitude, leading to a positive spiral.” Moreover, both elements are associated with everything from better health outcomes to stronger bonds and prosocial behavior—which themselves all circle back to longevity.
According to Brigitte Zeitlin, RD, founder of BZ Nutrition, gratitude releases oxytocin (aka the “love hormone”), which permits us to feel better and become healthier. “Gratitude and the oxytocin from it helps to reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood and sleep patterns, and even boost immunity,” she shares. Simply put, it feels good to feel good.
“Gratitude and the oxytocin from it helps to reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood and sleep patterns, and even boost immunity.”—Brigitte Zeitlin, RD
One of the best ways to incorporate more gratitude into your daily life, à la the Blue Zones, is to practice mindful eating. “Practicing gratitude with mindful, inclusive eating habits creates a healthier relationship with food. That feel-good oxytocin response becomes associated with these specific mindful eating habits,” Zeitlin continues. “The better you feel about your food choices and eating habits, the more likely you are to maintain them, and the more confident you become in how you take care of yourself.” Similarly, the dietitian says that a healthy relationship with food can facilitate a stronger self-image and more respect for your body.
“The better you feel about your food choices and eating habits, the more likely you are to maintain them, and the more confident you become in how you take care of yourself.”
Yet the benefits of gratitude (and the oxytocin boost from it) aren’t limited to yourself only. “We want to show ourselves gratitude, but we want to spread that gratitude around,” Zeitlin says. “Showing someone else gratitude releases oxytocin for them, so the health benefits are communal.”
Per a 2014 study, “gratitude and its expression provides behavioral and psychological ‘glue’ to bind individuals closer together,” courtesy of oxytocin. Additional research supports the notion that communicating gratitude to others can promote stronger social bonds, which in turn supports physical and mental health while promoting longevity.
“This is why the Blue Zone communities thrive so much: They are spreading gratitude and feel-good hormones around,” Zeitlin explains.
4 tips to start your own gratitude practice
Clearly, the wide-ranging benefits of practicing gratitude are too good to pass up. To reap them for yourself, follow these simple tips.
1. Start small
Zeitlin notes that people may get tripped up by thinking they need to focus on big-picture items. However, she clarifies that being thankful for the little things can also lead to wellness wins, sharing the analogy of a football game. “Those players are grateful for every single 10 yards they gain, and not only when they make a touchdown. They know that the touchdowns don’t come without the 10 yards in between them and their goal,” she explains.
With that in mind, Zeitlin advises that we all “get grateful for the mini-moments and acknowledge the micro-wins.”
2. Aim for three things you’re grateful for each day
To lead a long and happy life, Zeitlin advises recognizing at least three things you’re grateful for on a daily basis. Being conscious of what you’re grateful for—and clearly delineating them on paper or out loud, even if you’re on your own—is a crucial step.
Need inspo to lead the way? “If you’re new to practicing gratitude, I suggest using a journal with prompts—such as the Five-Minute Journal—which guides you with baby steps,” Zeitlin shares.
3. Integrate gratitude seamlessly into your routine
To make your gratitude practice habitual, find ways to naturally incorporate it into your regimen. For instance, you can take cues from the Blue Zones by looking at your plate and honing in on food-focused specifics you’re thankful for before noshing. Perhaps it’s an appreciation for the labor and care it took for the food to make it to your plate, enjoying the colors and smells of the meal you’ve prepared, or getting excited for the nourishment and delicious flavors your food will provide. “Once you are in a groove with a gratitude practice, like flossing your teeth, it just becomes part of your day,” says Zeitlin.
4. Speak up
Again, it pays to communicate gratitude towards others to make all parties feel good. “Thank the barista for your morning latte. Thank your friend for tagging you in that funny Instagram post,” Zeitlin advises. You truly have nothing to lose—and rather so much to gain—by sharing kind and gracious vibes to any and all people you cross paths with.
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