The Art of Gratitude
As you gathered with friends and family over Thanksgiving to celebrate and give thanks, whether in-person or virtually, you probably didn’t even realize the positive impact gratitude and giving thanks can have on your mental health and overall well being.
The word gratitude comes from the Latin word gratia, which means graciousness, grace, or gratefulness. Gratitude emcompasses all of these meanings summarizing the thankful appreciation for what we come to receive in life (both tangible and intangible). In recognizing gratitude we also recognize that goodness lies partially outside of ourselves. It helps us connect with something larger than ourselves as individuals, such as nature, other people, or a higher power.
In positive psychology research, gratitude is consistently connected to greater happiness. It helps us feel more positive emotions, savor our positive experiences, improve our physical and mental health, face adversity, and develop strong relationships.
The Benefits of Practicing Gratitude
Recent research conducted by two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, found that individuals who practice daily acts of gratitude develop a more optimistic view of their lives. During the course of the study, all participants were asked to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.
According to Harvard Health, “One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative).” After 10 weeks, participants who wrote about gratitude felt better about their lives. They also exercised more and had required fewer visits to their doctors.
Making gratitude a part of your daily life can lead to many scientifically proven benefits, including:
● Cultivate strong and positive relationships: Showing our gratitude to loved ones is a great way to make them feel good, make us feel good, and make the relationship better in general. Those who communicate their gratitude to their friends are more likely to
work through problems and concerns with their friends and have a more positive perception of their friends and loved ones.
● Improve physical health: According to a 2012 study, thankful people experience fewer pains and ailments, and they report feeling healthier than other people.
● Improve psychological health: Robert Emmons, a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the correlation between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.
● Enhance empathy and reduce aggressions: Grateful people are more likely to behave in a positive social manner, even when others are less kind.
● Enhance sleep: According to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep.
● Improve 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. Similar studies have found that gratitude reduces social comparisons.
●Increase mental strength: For years, research has indicated that not only does gratitude reduce stress, but it also helps individuals overcome their traumatic experiences. 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.
● Become more giving towards others: Another benefit to both ourselves and others, gratitude can decrease our self-centeredness. Evidence has shown that promoting gratitude in participants makes them more likely to share with others, even at the expense of themselves, and even if the receiver was a stranger.
Ways to Cultivate Gratitude
There are many ways to incorporate gratitude into your life on a daily basis. Examples include writing letters, mentally thanking someone, keeping a gratitude journal, counting your blessings and praying and meditating. Chances are, if you make gratitude a regular practice, you’ll feel better, more connected, and mentally more in tune to the world around you and to your role in being a source of gratitude for others as well.
Please remember to cultivate gratitude in your life whenever you can. You never know how far the impact of a little gratitude can reach!