Some might say, “I can’t be thankful or grateful during this pandemic.” I beg to differ.
As an American, I’m thankful that I live in a free country where people have the freedom to speak their mind and vote for a candidate of their choice. I’m also thankful for my family and our good health, for a great company that employees me, and for friends that challenge me to be better and that accept me the way I am.
I find that when I’m grateful, everything else seems to be less important. Recently, I’ve heard interviews and read articles about thankfulness and gratefulness and I’ve been struck by how important they are in maintaining good mental health. I’ve even heard and read about scientific evidence that thankfulness/gratefulness creates a positive outlook on one’s situation.
According to a study done by Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, there are seven key reasons to be thankful/grateful.
1.) Gratitude opens the door to more relationships. Not only does saying “thank you” constitute good manners, but showing appreciation can help you win new friends, 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 a stranger for holding the door or you send a quick thank-you note to the co-worker who helped you with a project, acknowledging other peoples’ contributions can lead to new opportunities.
Something I’ve noticed on my almost-daily long walks in my neighborhood over the past few months is how just making eye contact and saying hello – or thank you – to the person who pulls their dog(s) out of the way creates a connection. While I may not be learning the names of all the people I see walking and running, I find that they are more likely to return the gesture the next time I see them. It’s a small thing, really, but it reminds us that we’re connected and thankful to be surrounded by people who care.
2.) Gratitude improves physical health. Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and they 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 with their doctors, which is likely to contribute to further longevity.
This may be a “chicken and egg” scenario for me since I went from being a college athlete to a runner for almost 40 years who still takes a walk almost every day, but I start my day with “quiet-time” and some thoughts of gratitude. I can feel the difference in my day if I don’t include both of them. Both practices are linked in my mind, and they contribute to my outlook on life.
3.) Gratitude improves psychological health. Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.
Most of us have lives that are busy with commitments we make to work, hobbies, and relationships. This often causes us to resent the things to which we’ve committed. In my experience, the best way to handle this is stopping my thought process and remembering why I am grateful that I get to do the things that I do or that I have that relationship. This allows me to reevaluate my attitude toward those things and relearn why I put forth the effort to keep doing those things and maintain those relationships.
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.
Revenge may seem like a great plan to start with, but it never gives you a long-term benefit. Think of the golden rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” You can actually feel gratitude to yourself for not retaliating and letting it go.
5.) Grateful people sleep better. 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.
I’ve met people who have suggested keeping gratitude journal and to write in it at the end of each day, documenting three things for which you’re grateful. It seems to work for them – maybe it’ll work for you, too.
6.) Gratitude improves self-esteem. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased athlete’s self-esteem, which is 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 – which is a major factor in reduced self-esteem – grateful people are able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments.
How could it ever be bad to improve your self-esteem? Social Media is masterful at making people feel less attractive, less happy with their families, and less fulfilled by their job in comparison with others. It’s not bad to have aspirations for more; it is harmful to do so to the exclusion of appreciating what you have.
7.) Gratitude increases mental strength. For years, research has shown that, in addition to reducing stress, gratitude 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 you have to be thankful for – even during the worst of times – fosters resilience.
We all have the ability and opportunity to cultivate gratitude. Simply take a few moments to focus on all that you have and let go of the negative emotions telling you not to be happy until you have the things you think you deserve. Developing an “attitude of gratitude” is one of the simplest ways to improve your satisfaction with life. Reach for more and grow as much as you can, but don’t stop appreciating what you already have. Gratitude isn’t settling, it’s understanding the inherent value of who you are, what you do, and the people surrounding you.
If you’re still saying to yourself, “I just can’t think of anything for which I’m grateful;” try saying, “I’m glad I read this article and I might just try one of those seven things.” Congratulations – You just “did it!” You showed gratitude and I hope you feel better because of it. Happy Thanksgiving!!!