It’s that time of year already! Many of us will come together with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s a wonderful moment to connect and reflect on what we’re grateful for.
Most of us have an understanding of what gratitude is. It can be defined as an emotion, a virtue, or a behavior. It lacks a simple definition so researchers Emmons and McCullough (2003) have broken it down into a 2 step process: 1) “recognizing that one has obtained a positive outcome” and 2) “recognizing that there is an external source for this positive outcome.” This definition has helped researchers study this construct of how gratitude can improve our overall well-being. So why does gratitude matter?
Research in neuroscience has demonstrated that gratitude in general, produces positive changes in our brain and its neuroplasticity. Some of the outcomes of these studies demonstrated increased gray matter volume and increased neural activity in certain areas of the brain. The areas are associated with positive emotions and prosocial behavior.
Studies have found that people who are more grateful tend to report increased life satisfaction, less materialism, better ability to cope during difficulties and less likely to experience burnout. Adolescents who were more grateful, were also “more interested and satisfied with their school lives, more kind and helpful, and are more socially integrated”. Practicing gratitude is also associated with improved self-esteem, reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, increased positive affect and decreased body dissatisfaction in women.
A handful of studies have suggested that people who are more grateful may be healthier and others suggest that practicing gratitude can also improve sleep and heart health and lead to adopting healthier habits resulting in overall improved health.
There is research that supports the relationship between gratitude and prosocial behaviors. More grateful people are more helpful and generous to others. Gratitude may also help create and strengthen social bonds and improve satisfaction within intimate relationships.
3 Simple Ways to Practice
So how can you develop a practice of gratitude beyond the festivities of Thanksgiving?
Count your blessings - write down 5 things you are grateful for daily or weekly.
Give thanks purposefully - tell someone or write them a letter to express your gratitude in a purposeful and meaningful way.
Mental subtraction - imagine what life would be like if a positive event had not occurred.
For this month of Thanksgiving, I invite you to give one of these practices a go, perhaps make it into a family activity and notice what happens over time. And in the spirit of gratitude, I’d like to say Thank You to each of you for being a part of our wonderful community. Happy Thanksgiving.
Information sourced from https://ggsc.berkeley.edu/images/uploads/GGSC-JTF_White_Paper-Gratitude-FINAL.pdf