Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! The holidays are here, and we’re all busy catering to out of town family and friends. Sometimes we need to stop, smell the roses, and be grateful for our existence and what is given to us. Hence, the theme of Thanksgiving, giving thanks to what we have. As for me, I have gratitude for my loved ones, my medication, the Sufjan Stevens song “Mystery of Love” from the film “Call Me By Your Name,” and my publication in Role Reboot!
Since it’s Thanksgiving, let’s explore what it means to be grateful. According to dictionary.com, being grateful is the quality of being thankful, readiness to show appreciation, and to return the kindness. People feel and express gratitude in different ways. It can apply to the past (retrieving positive memories and being thankful for past elements of childhood and blessings), the present (not taking good fortune such as being financially well off for granted), and the future (being hopeful and optimistic).
There is a ton of research on how feeling and showing gratitude is key to robust mental health. Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami conducted a study where they asked participants to write a few sentences each week on particular topics. One group wrote about things they were grateful about that occurred during the week and a second group wrote about daily irritations that displeased them. A third group wrote about events with no emphasis on whether it was negative or positive. After ten weeks, the people who wrote sentences about what they were grateful for were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. They also exercised more and had fewer physician visits.https://www.upenn.edu
Managers who remember to say “Thank you,” to their employees may find their employees work harder. Researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania randomly divided university fundraisers into two groups. One group made phone calls to ask alumni to donate money the same way they always did and a second-team–assigned to work on a different day– received a pep talk from the director of annual giving–who told the fundraisers that she was grateful for their efforts. During the following week, the fundraising group that received the pep talk made 50% more fundraising calls than those who did not.
Gratitude writing is one technique that can be used in therapy. A 2016 randomized controlled trial that involved 300 adults looked at gratitude writing in addition to psychotherapy. Study participants were split into three groups: psychotherapy only, psychotherapy with expressive writing (writing about stressful events), and psychotherapy with gratitude writing (writing about things they were grateful for). One week after the therapy and writing activities ended, people in the different groups did not show differences in mental health levels. Be that as that may, after four weeks, the participants that were in the therapy plus gratitude group reported better mental health, and after 12 weeks, the difference was even more significant.
There are many reasons why gratitude is vital to mental health.
- Gratitude opens the door to more relationships: According to a 2014 study published in Emotion, thanking an acquaintance makes them more likely to further an ongoing relationship.
- Gratitude Improves Psychological Health: Gratitude improves a multitude of emotions that include envy, resentment, frustration, and regret. Robert Emmons, an expert gratitude researcher, has conducted many studies on the link between gratitude and happiness. His research has concluded that appreciation efficiently increases happiness.
- Gratitude Improves Physical Health: According to a study published in Personality and Individual Differences, grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling happier than other people.
- Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression: Grateful people are more likely to act appropriately than those who are less grateful. In a 2012 study published by the University of Kentucky, participants who ranked higher on the gratitude scale we less likely to be reactive to others, even when given negative feedback.
- Grateful People sleep better: In a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, writing in a gratitude journal helps improve sleep. Spend just 15 minutes writing what you’re thankful for, and you may experience longer, more peaceful sleep.
- Gratitude Improves Self-Esteem: In a 2014 study published in Journal of Applied Sports Psychology, gratitude increased an athlete’s self-esteem, an important aspect of optimal performance. Also, other studies have shown that gratitude reduces social comparison, so instead of being resentful to others who have more money or better jobs, gratitude helps us be happy for other people.
- Gratitude Increases Mental Strength: In a 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Theory, it showed that veterans who have higher levels of gratitude experienced lower levels of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In a 2003 study published in Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major component of resilience following the September 11 terrorist attacks. Being cognizant of what you have–even in the worst of times–helps build resilience.
There is no one right way to practice gratitude. One way to practice gratitude is to notice the things that you take for granted and look at it from a perspective of thankfulness. Second, gratitude requires humility, so see where modesty fits in your life. Third, be genuine when someone calls you on the phone, it may make them feel valued. Last, when you find yourself down on hard times think about what you learned from this situation. Also, when you look back on the unfortunate event, without emotion, ask yourself what lessons will you be grateful for that you learned?
Gratitude can and should go beyond the holiday of Thanksgiving. It helps us cope with the competitiveness of the world and has many health benefits. It sure is cheaper than a doctor’s visit!