This week, in the United States, we are celebrating Thanksgiving Day. It is meant to be a day spent with family, being grateful for all we have in life. Often times, however, it is a stressful week filled with mad-dashes to crowded grocery stores, hours of cleaning and cooking, homes filled with obnoxious relatives, and the start of over-indulgent spending sprees as Christmas shopping begins the day after Thanksgiving, infamously dubbed as “Black Friday.”
It can also be an extra lonely and depressing day for those who have lost loved ones around this time of year or for those who do not have anyone with whom to celebrate or share a Thanksgiving Day meal.
In both scenarios, scientific evidence shows that practicing gratitude can improve a person’s mental health, in terms of both anxiety and depression. Now, this doesn’t mean that being grateful one day or one week a year is going to make a difference. It is something that has to been done consistently over time.
Why Gratitude is Good for our Mental Health
The evidence is in: Across three experiments by Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough (2003,) they found evidence that practicing gratitude leads to positive emotional and interpersonal outcomes. A 2006 study in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam Veterans who practiced gratitude had lower rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Robert Emmons, the world’s leading researcher on gratitude, has this to say:
- “Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present. It magnifies positive emotions.
- Gratitude blocks toxic, negative emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret—emotions that can destroy our happiness. There’s even recent evidence, including a 2008 study by psychologist Alex Wood in the Journal of Research in Personality, showing that gratitude can reduce the frequency and duration of episodes of depression and protect people from stress.
- Grateful people are more stress resistant. There’s a number of studies showing that in the face of serious trauma, adversity, and suffering, if people have a grateful disposition, they’ll recover more quickly. I believe gratitude gives people a perspective from which they can interpret negative life events and help them guard against post-traumatic stress and lasting anxiety.
- Grateful people have a higher sense of self-worth. I think that’s because when you’re grateful, you have the sense that someone else is looking out for you—someone else has provided for your well-being, or you notice a network of relationships, past and present, of people who are responsible for helping you get to where you are right now.
Once you start to recognize the contributions that other people have made to your life—once you realize that other people have seen the value in you—you can transform the way you see yourself.”
3 Easy Ways to Start Practicing Gratitude Today
- The easiest way to start practicing gratitude is to wake up each morning and think of three things for which you are grateful. Name them off in your head and spend just a moment thinking about each one, and then go about your day. Or think of them at night before you go to sleep, pondering each one as you drift off into dreamland.
- One of the most effective ways to practice gratitude, according to Emmons, is to keep a gratitude journal. Write five things for which you are grateful in it once a week.
- Finally, act grateful. Don’t just think it and write it, but say it to others, smile, say thank you, give freely in gratitude, write thank you notes, give hugs. A grateful spirit is contagious and attractive. People will be drawn to you, and you will know a new peace and calm in your life.
Personally, I am grateful for this opportunity to write about gratitude. I feel good just writing about it for you. I am grateful that you are there to read it.
I am also grateful for this week and all that it holds for me. I am grateful for my day of rest today and the busyness of tomorrow and Thursday. I am grateful for my new holiday outfit and my dog and the quiet in my home at the moment.
What are you grateful for?