As we approach our traditional and uniquely American holiday of Thanksgiving, we often focus solely on the festivities and food (Oh! the FOOD!). The Pilgrims had a very good reason for celebration in 1621. After all, they were still alive because of the kindness of the Wampanoag Indians. Half of the colonists had perished that first year. We tend to forget how grave their situation was. The “attitude of gratitude” root of this holiday is often lost… amidst the turkeys, hams, pumpkin and mincemeat pies. Yet, it turns out that being thankful is actually beneficial on a day-to-day basis in today’s world, not just for one-time events – like avoiding starvation in a new world.
Still, many of us are often wrapped up in “what’s wrong with the world/ my life” and some mighty “pity parties. The lower light levels of winter can sometimes provoke these feelings… but that is another topic. While it can be a challenge to avoid self-pity and playing “gee, ain’t it awful,” try swapping it for an attitude of gratitude.
While Thanksgiving is one day devoted to being grateful, I find a daily practice can make a huge difference…and science agrees!
Here are 7 scientifically proven benefits:
- Get better sleep. I love Bert Jacobs’ mother. Bert is one of the founders of Life Is Good. Bert’s mom would ask her sons to tell her three good things that happened each day…. every single day! Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study. So, spend just 15 minutes jotting down three good things before bed…and get better zzz’s!
- More kindness. Even when others behave badly or give negative feedback, grateful people are more likely to behave politely and less likely to retaliate against others. Participants in a 2012 study experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people. In short, gratitude fosters kindness…and good manners.
- Gratitude helps make new friends. Saying “thank you” is just good manners. Not only that, showing appreciation can help you win new friends, according to a 2014 study. According to this study, thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship. No doubt about it, acknowledging other people’s contributions can lead to new opportunities. Remember to thank a stranger for holding the door and send a thank-you note to that colleague who helped you out or to clients for their business.
- Improve your physical health. According to a 2012 study, grateful people experience fewer aches and pains. They also report feeling healthier…and they are more likely to take care of their health… going for regular check-ups and exercising more often.
- Improve your psychological health. Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions: resentment, frustration, regret, and envy… to name a few. Prominent gratitude researcher, Robert Emmons, conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His studies confirm that gratitude effectively increases happiness and decreases depression.
- Boost your self-esteem. Self-esteem is an essential component of optimal performance. In a 2014 study, it was found that gratitude increased athletes’ self-esteem… and hence their performance. Other studies have shown that gratitude nixes the tendency to “keep up with the Joneses”… comparing ourselves unfavorably to others, which drags down self-esteem. Appreciate other people’s accomplishments, rather than becoming resentful toward people who have more money or better jobs.
- Increase your mental strength. Research has shown that gratitude reduces stress. Yes! There is also evidence that it may play a major role in overcoming trauma. A 2006 study found that Vietnam War veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Further, another study found that gratitude was a major factor in resilience and recovery following the September 11 terrorist attacks. Acknowledge that you have things to be thankful for… even in the face of tragic and traumatic times. Count your blessing to foster resilience and mental strength.
Developing an “attitude of gratitude” is one of the simplest ways to improve your satisfaction with life. This Thanksgiving, take inventory of everything you have to be grateful for.
Start with three good things.