Celebrating Thanksgiving is a good for you. In fact, being thankful is connected to higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction, better physical health and relationships. All in all, those are some pretty compelling reasons to celebrate Thanksgiving all year round. So this year, give thanks like you mean it!
First, more grateful people are less likely to be depressed. They experience greater optimism, joy, pleasure and enthusiasm. Gratitude increases mental strength and resilience, even providing protection against trauma. Among Vietnam War veterans, rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder were lower for those who had higher levels of gratitude.
Grateful people also tend to engage in more positive interactions with others. They are more helpful and kind, exhibit less aggressive behavior and are less resentful of others’ successes. It is not difficult to see, then, how gratitude can lead to stronger personal relationships—which in itself promotes greater happiness and well-being.
On the physical side gratitude has been shown to help people sleep better and feel less bothered by aches and pains. It is good for the immune system and lowers blood pressure. It makes people more likely to take care of their physical health.
There are several reasons why gratitude can be such a powerful force in your life, especially when attitude is coupled with action. Gratitude allows you to shift your focus from the negative to the positive, no matter how bad things seem at the moment. Gratitude changes you, filling your body with feel-good hormones, and inspires you, helping you convert your good feelings into positive actions with others.
Hopefully by now, you are convinced that you need more gratitude in your life and are motivated to do what it takes to reap the benefits. Here are a few tips.
Focus on the positive. It is not necessary to pretend that negative things never happen. However, research shows that dwelling on the negative aspects of a situation does not improve positive outlook, while dwelling on the positive does. To make a shift toward gratitude, first think about past memories and successes. Then shift to thinking about what is going well now. Finally, imagine what good things might come in the future.
Record it. If you really want to build a reservoir of positive thoughts, write them down. Start a gratitude journal that you can go back and read whenever you need a mood boost.
Start small. There is no need to spend hours every day writing pages of positive thoughts to generate enough gratitude to impact your life. During just one weekly session, list three to five things that you are grateful for. According to the research, you could see a significant positive change in your attitude over the course of just two months.
Build a habit. Once you settle into a routine with a weekly gratitude session, work your way toward developing a consistent “attitude of gratitude.” Award-winning author and licensed psychologist, Dr. Deborah Serani, emphasizes that cultivating gratitude and reflecting on positive experiences on a regular basis plays a key factor in promoting good mental health.
Be authentic. Rather than simply listing things you are supposed to be thankful for, like your health or your family, be sure to identify the things that are most important to you—no matter how unusual or specific. You will have a better outcome if you truly feel thankful about the items on your list. This might mean expressing thanks for a physical therapist’s helpful attitude during a difficult session, even though you are not satisfied with your overall progress.
Share it. Spread the benefits of gratitude by making it a point to thank others who have made a difference in your life. Write a thank you note to someone who once helped you out a long time ago. Call or visit a family member who gave you sound advice. This Thanksgiving, look for opportunities to compliment what people are doing well, from preparing a dish, to telling a story, to managing a group of energetic children.
Go deep. According to gratitude researcher Dr. Robert A. Emmons, Thanksgiving provides an excellent opportunity to move beyond personal gratitude to considering all the benefits we have as a culture. After expressing thanks for the food on our table, we can encourage everyone to pause and reflect how our many freedoms and material advantages are available because of the sacrifices of others.
The beautiful thing about gratitude is that it easily becomes so much more than a thought or feeling. When we become more grateful, we change and others notice. We feel differently, we talk differently and we treat others better. It seems like the world becomes a better place and, in fact, it does—thanks to gratitude.
A Serving of Gratitude May Save the Day, by John Tierney
Giving Thanks: The Benefits of Gratitude by Susan Krauss Whitbourne
How Gratitude Combats Depression, by Deborah Serani
In Praise of Gratitude, in Harvard Mental Health Letter
The Neuroscience of Why Gratitude Makes Us Healthier, by Ocean Robbins
Pamela Szalay is the Director of Community Education at the Mental Health Association in Niagara County, Inc. in Lockport, NY and provides educational presentations and workshops on mental health topics for the community. You can reach her by email.