Thanksgiving is certainly the holiday for celebrating gratitude. And even when times are tough, feeling thankful appreciation for what we have and receive drives general well-being. It is good both for our physical and mental health. Gratitude is an important component of a happy and fulfilling life and is consistently linked with feeling more positive emotions, savoring positive experiences, having better health, dealing effectively with adversity, and building strong relationships.
Numerous studies in the last decade have shown that people who practice gratitude are less likely to struggle with depression and anxiety, feel greater empathy toward others, have better self-esteem, are more open to relationships, are more resilient, feel fewer aches and pains, have lower blood pressure and better heart health, and tend to sleep better. Grateful people, including war veterans, report fewer PTSD symptoms following trauma.
Gratitude enhances positive emotions by focusing on the enjoyment of benefits. It leads to adaptive coping strategies by making sense of stressful events. Gratitude increases the accessibility to positive memories, which in turn, support one’s well-being. Grateful people are more likely to seek less and appreciate and care for what they have.
Gratitude is also a skill. When we practice gratitude, it builds and becomes stronger.
Tips for Practicing Gratitude
There are many strategies for cultivating gratitude. Here are a few tips from Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California–Davis and one of the world’s leading scientific experts on gratitude:
1. Keep a gratitude journal. Getting into a daily habit of writing down the people, events and things you are grateful for, is a great way to remind yourself of how much you are thankful for.
2. Remember the bad. By contrasting where you are today, compared to more difficult times in your life, you are better able to appreciate the gifts you have now.
3. Learn prayers of gratitude. Again, this is a way to remind yourself about the positive parts of your life.
4. Express appreciation. Tell the people you care about how grateful you are for them. Not only does expressing your gratitude for someone to make their day a little brighter, but it can do wonders for increasing your own levels of gratitude.
5. Help others. Volunteering or giving back to others, can provide an enormous boost to your well-being and help you feel appreciation.
6. Practice mindfulness. Sit down daily and think through five to 10 things you are grateful for. Picture them in your mind and sit with that feeling of gratitude in your body. Doing this every day will rewire your brain to be naturally more grateful.
7. Spend time with loved ones. Nurturing your relationships and supporting the people you care about will make you feel more connected, optimistic and grateful.
8. Fake it ’til you make it. Even when you are not feeling positive or thankful, going through the motions of smiling and saying thank you, can trigger feelings of gratitude.
9. Pay attention to the little things. Get outside and appreciate nature or admire the Thanksgiving table decorations. Taking notice of the beauty around you helps inspire gratitude.
So have a happy Thanksgiving and practice gratitude!