Well, it’s official: now is the time to reflect on all that is good in our lives and give thanks. We will go to great lengths to be with our loved ones, prepare and enjoy a scrumptious feast, and acknowledge our many blessings. Just as the ghosts and goblins come out in October, November is the designated month for gratitude and appreciativeness. But, unlike the ghosts and goblins, perhaps we shouldn’t pack up our gratitude with the serving platters as soon as dinner is over. Perhaps we should instead strive to make giving thanks a year-round endeavor.
We know that expressing gratitude is the right thing to do. Although some say a handwritten thank-you note has been lost to texts, emails, posts and chats, most of us were dutifully instructed to give thanks upon receipt of a gift. But outside of the simple expectation of a thank-you note, it seems adopting an ‘attitude of gratitude’ is actually good for us – and there is science to prove it.
Research has demonstrated there are tangible benefits to consistently acknowledging the positive. Studies at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of Berkeley suggest that “thankful people are healthy people” and enjoy a myriad of benefits. These include stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, experiencing more optimism and joy, acting with compassion and generosity, and feeling less isolated.
In one study, participants were divided into three groups. Group 1 was asked to write down things they were thankful for; Group 2 was to write about frustrations and day-to-day annoyances; and Group 3 had to write down any events that affected them, positive or negative. By the end of the ten week study, results indicated that Group 1 enjoyed a more optimistic and positive outlook on life, more frequent and consistent exercise habits, and less frequent doctor visits. This suggests that by consciously focusing on blessings as opposed to burdens, we can reap emotional and physical benefits.
Workplace and personal relationships can also flourish because of gratitude. The National Center for Biotechnology published a study which showed that managers who said thank you to workers on a regular basis noted an overall improved work ethic. Couples who made it a point to verbally express their gratitude for each other were more content in their relationships. There is even data to suggest that thankfulness can lead to improved sleep patterns, which directly impact our physical and emotional well-being.
Even if you aren’t naturally the half-full type, you can consciously cultivate and increase gratitude in your everyday life with a few simple tricks.
- Journal. Keeping a gratitude journal is an excellent way to become cognizant of your blessings. Some people start each day with a gratitude list, some jot down the good stuff along the way, and some wind down with a review of the positives. Regardless of the approach, counting your blessings can change your life.
- Write Thank-You Letters. This is different than a thank-you note scribbled off to Aunt Jane upon receipt of her annual Christmas fruitcake. A thank-you letter is a heartfelt message to someone that has deeply affected your life or contributed to your success. Writing in detail how you have benefited from someone else’s influence or kindness is a powerful cultivator of gratitude.
- Have a Grateful Group. By surrounding yourself with positive people, you will pick up on their habit of focusing on the pluses not the minuses. In the same way that the healthy eating habits of your friends will affect your diet, gratitude is contagious.
- Volunteer. It is impossible to help those less fortunate without becoming more thankful for your own circumstance. People who spend time in service to others experience deep spiritual and emotional benefits themselves.
- Focus on the Little Things. Communicating appreciation for common, everyday things can increase gratitude. A smile and a “thank-you” to the grocery clerk; a quick text applauding a spouse’s efforts; a simple compliment to a co-worker …there are countless opportunities each day to express thankfulness that will mutually benefit you and the recipient.
- Exercise. Grateful people exercise more, and people who exercise are more grateful. This has been proven in studies examining the link between thankfulness and overall physical health.
Science tells us that deliberate thankfulness is linked to improved emotional, spiritual and physical health. Therefore, with Thanksgiving rapidly approaching, it may be a good idea to adopt some techniques to maintain holiday gratefulness well after the last turkey sandwich is gone.