Updated: Apr 21, 2020
Just as we all make well-intentioned resolutions on New Year's Eve and then let them fade away, at Thanksgiving we think a lot about what we're grateful for, but we don't always carry that through the rest of the year.
That's probably a mistake—it turns out there are quite a few tangible benefits to you and those around you. I'll admit I'm a skeptic, and the idea of keeping a Gratitude Journal kind of makes me squirm. But there's no arguing with the science (unless you're a fan of alternative facts) so I think I'll give it a try.
There are many articles and websites that describe the benefits of practicing gratitude. Rather than rewrite what's already been written, I've cribbed from an article in the Los Angeles Times from November 18th, written by Alene Dawson.
So read on, feel good, and Happy Thanksgiving! And please share if you have experienced the benefits of practicing gratitude—we'd love to hear from you.
“Gratitude is good medicine,” says Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis and founding editor in chief of the Journal of Positive Psychology. Studies show that practicing gratitude can be used to help lower blood pressure, stop smoking and reduce stress. Here are 10 reasons why it’s beneficial to cultivate an attitude of gratitude year round, not just at Thanksgiving:
1. Gratitude empowers you
“If we’re so depressed about what’s going on in the world that we can’t act, what does that serve? So part of what we’re trying to do is keep people connected to gratefulness as a source of activism,” says Kristi Nelson, executive director of gratefulness.org, which describes itself as an online sanctuary dedicated to fostering grateful living. “It’s really powerful to steep ourselves in what we’re grateful for and then act to defend, protect and advance that in the world.”
2. Helps fight addiction
“There’s a lot of belief that addictions come out of spiritual thirst,” says Nelson, citing a principle of 12-step programs. Gratitude can help you positively reframe not just the present but the past and future. “We have seen people have tremendous breakthroughs in valuing their lives and each other and life itself as a result of focusing on what they have to feel grateful for versus what’s missing in their lives.”
3. Combats the Facebook blues
“In a consumer culture, we’re driven to see what we don’t have, and Facebook, social media, is only making it worse,” Nelson says. “It can feel like we’re all living in some kind of substandard world, that something should be different. That’s a form of suffering as opposed to seeing [that life itself is] a gift.”
4. Boosts self-control
“Gratitude makes people more patient,” says Jeffrey Froh, an associate professor at Hofstra University, referencing the ability to delay gratification. “Future rewards are generally less attractive, but if you’re in a grateful mood you’re more able to wait. If you’re sad or depressed you just want to feel better in the moment, so you eat that whole cheesecake” instead of skipping dessert in favor of your weight-loss goals.
5. Helps you sleep better
Instead of counting sheep, try counting your blessings. “There are about six good studies now showing that gratitude facilitates better sleep,” Emmons says. Almost every benchmark of good sleep — including duration of sleep and the time it takes to fall asleep — is improved by gratitude.
6. Fosters a sense of community
“The thread of life can unravel very quickly, so we need memories of how we’ve been supported and sustained by other people,” Emmons says. For instance, if a hospital took good care of your spouse, you may be motivated to donate money to help build a new cancer wing. “So much of life is about giving, receiving, repaying benefits; that’s why gratitude is so foundational and fundamental to human beings and to social life. … It’s a cycle of reciprocity.”
7. Helps fend off depression
Practicing gratitude is linked to more resilience and optimism, Emmons says, recalling one study that found that counting blessings and “gratitude letter writing” reduced the risk of depression in patients by 41% over six months.
8. Makes you a better spouse
Rather than focusing on “negative attributions” or what you don’t like about your mate, “Focus on what your partner is good at,” Emmons says. With any luck, that praise and affirmation might inspire him or her to improve other aspects of the relationship.
9. Makes you a better boss and manager
Managers who express gratitude have more productive employees. In turn, “Grateful employees are better employees. They’re more engaged … more efficient,” Emmons says.
10. Increases life satisfaction for kids
“The way you couch it to kids is: Be on the hunt for the good,” Froh says. “Kids who are grateful have better relationships growing up, increased happiness and life satisfaction, more emotional and social support, get higher grades, do better in school, are less envious and less materialistic.”
Here are a few resources to help you get started on your gratitude journey:
If you prefer listening or watching, check out The Ted.com gratitude playlist
For a way of life, go to Gratefulness.org, co-founded by Catholic Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast
For a quick primer: A Practical Guide to Gratitude from Unstuck
For the best collection of science I could find: Happier Human
And for more templates, how-tos, and apps than you will ever need, go to this article from the Positive Psychology Program.