Gratitude: the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
I’m a firm believer that feelings are what they are and can’t be controlled or manipulated – they’re all valid, they all need space, and you should never ever judge yourself for any of them. (aka feeling bad about feeling bad.)
Change is loss, and there’s been plenty of it this year for many. And while feelings can’t be controlled, gratitude is one of the few emotions that can be generated and cultivated with a bit of intentional thought. Which has a way of changing a mindset, and feelings tend to follow the leader.
(Some of the benefits of gratitude are obvious – and cliché – but are worth mentioning nonetheless.)
While we truly hope that this holiday season stirs up only feelings of joy and happiness for you, we recognize and acknowledge that this time of year can also be hard and heavy and conflicting – or, most likely, a mixed bag of two extremes.
Gratitude is good for the body.
According to Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D.:
Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret.
Gratitude has been shown to increase a sense of well-being and calm, but I’ve noticed that it also leaves me feeling a bit more empowered and ready to take on the task at hand. I’m far more willing to get moving, send a text, or make a phone call when I’m feeling grateful. From fewer aches and pains to better sleep, the physical effects of gratitude are noteworthy. And even if the positive physical benefits can’t be proven by a brain scan or a blood test, there really is nothing to lose in giving it a try.
Gratitude is good for the mind.
A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War Veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of PTSD. Reduced stress, improved self-esteem, and the releasing of negative emotions are all – consistently – reported effects of gratitude.
Gratitude can also keep you grounded in the present, thankful for the journey, and hopeful for the future. Staying in the present – being thankful for all that I have right now in this moment – increases my self-awareness, mindfulness, and courtesy.
Gratitude is good for relationships.
A 2012 study by the University of Kentucky found that participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate, even when receiving negative feedback. They also reported an increased sense of empathy and sensitivity. Grateful people are more likely to appreciate their significant relationships, and notice the good in others. When I’m grateful for the person in front of me, I’m far less likely to judge them and am able to handle any sort of conflict in a much healthier way. Studies have shown that expressed gratitude increases positive emotions toward that person and creates a greater sense of safety in expressing concerns within a relationship.
Gratitude can also be good for professional relationships, according to a Harvard study:
Managers who remember to say “thank you” to people who work for them may find that those employees feel motivated to work harder. Researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania randomly divided university fund-raisers into two groups. One group made phone calls to solicit alumni donations in the same way they always had. The second group — assigned to work on a different day — received a pep talk from the director of annual giving, who told the fund-raisers she was grateful for their efforts. During the following week, the university employees who heard her message of gratitude made 50% more fund-raising calls than those who did not.
(Interestingly enough, there were two notable exceptions to their findings: teenagers who delivered thank-you notes and middle-aged divorced women who kept gratitude journals, suggesting that there is more to gratitude than checking it off a to-do list.)
Gratitude connects us to something bigger than ourselves – other people, nature, a higher power – because at least some of what we’re thankful for comes from outside ourselves.
So here’s the cliché (drumroll, please) – Give yourself and the people you love an early gift this year.
Acknowledge the goodness in your life.
Let it simmer.
Soak it in.
Write it down.
Share it with the people you love.