November is traditionally the time of year we start to think about the good things in our lives and express thanks for them. But if Thanksgiving is the only time you practice gratitude, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
Gratitude – an appreciation of things that are meaningful and valuable to you – has some amazing health benefits, including an overall sense of well-being, improved mental and physical health and even better sleep.
Gratitude is both an action and a frame of mind. Think about the last time you told someone – sincerely and with purpose – that you appreciate something they did for you. In all likelihood, you came away from feeling better. As a frame of mind, gratitude is the practice of thinking about things in an optimistic, positive way, of seeing the good and appreciating it. In this sense, gratitude can include appreciation of a beautiful sunrise, the smell of autumn leaves during a walk in the woods, or even a memory from childhood.
Living in gratitude opens doors, helping you to develop new relationships and strengthen existing ones. Within your circle of friends, who are you more drawn to – those who sincerely seem to appreciate having you in their lives or those who seem not to care one way or the other? In the workplace, who seems to get the plum assignments and promotions? Yes, gratitude plays a role.
In terms of physical health, people who are experts at practicing gratitude report fewer aches and pains and report their health as better overall than others. They are more likely to exercise, take good care of themselves, and visit their doctor on a regular basis. Believe it or not, they sleep better and for longer periods.
When you’re grateful for what you have, you spend less time worrying about what others have that you don’t. Gratitude helps to reduce feelings of envy, resentment, frustration, regret and depression. Overall, people who practice gratitude are happier. They also show a stronger tendency toward empathy. That is, it’s easier for them to put themselves in another person’s shoes and be sensitive to the trials and tribulations of others. As a result, they are less likely to exhibit aggressive behavior and the negative aspects associated with it. Gratitude helps to reduce stress.
Athletes who score high on gratitude also have higher self-esteem and better performance. They don’t worry about the accomplishments of others. In fact, gratitude seems to make it easier for them to celebrate others and participate in their success.
Finally, grateful people appear to be more altruistic than others. In a study of cancer patients, those who scored high for gratitude also demonstrated a greater willingness to participate in clinical research studies.
Get the Benefits of Gratitude for Yourself
Gratitude isn’t a single act, but a habit and an attitude. If gratitude doesn’t come easy to you, don’t worry. You can develop this healthy habit with practice. Here are some tips to get to started;
- When something happens for which you should feel gratitude, express it. It could be something as simple as another driver letting you merge onto the highway in heavy traffic; your spouse emptying the dishwasher; or the kids playing quietly in their rooms while you prepare dinner.
- Make a habit of writing down things that deserve to be appreciated: a beautiful sunset, green lights all the way to work, or a co-worker who stepped up to deal with a difficult situation.
- Spend time thinking about things for which you are grateful. Just the act of thinking thankful thoughts can be beneficial. If your thoughts turn to someone in your life who made a difference, a favorite teacher, a neighbor, a friend, take the time to write them a letter and let them know their kindness made a difference.
- Devote a little time every day to think about gratitude: the things in your life for which you are grateful as well as the times others have expressed gratitude to you.
- Practice saying thank you in a sincere and meaningful way, not in the cursory way we typically say it. Be present in the moment. Think about your words and make eye contact.
- When someone does something nice, write a thank-you note.
At New Vista, we want you to know help is always available. New Vista assists children, individuals, couples and families deal with the challenges of everyday life, including mental health, substance use and intellectual and developmental disabilities. For more support, appointments and questions call our 24-Hour Helpline at 1.800.928.8000.