During this time of year with Thanksgiving and the end of the year quickly approaching, we all find ourselves reflecting on what we are grateful for. It’s a wonderful exercise to stop and force yourself to notice the people and things in your life that bring you joy. But what exactly is gratitude? What role does it play in our mental health, and how can we get more of it?
At its core, gratitude is a state of mind that arises when you affirm a good thing in your life that comes from outside yourself. Some researchers describe it as a social emotion because it requires us to recognize how we have been supported and affirmed by other people. It is a conscious decision to notice and appreciate the positive in life.
And the benefits of practicing gratitude are many. When people practice gratitude, they still experience problems and challenges in life. However, gratitude equips them with the ability to replace a tendency toward negativity with one of resilience and optimism. Gratitude has been proven to be closely tied to mental health and life satisfaction. People who regularly practice gratitude have been found to experience more joy, love, and enthusiasm. They also experience fewer destructive emotions, such as envy, greed, and bitterness.
Gratitude also creates physical benefits. People who practice gratitude have been found to recover from illness more quickly and cope with stress more easily. They also tend to have lower blood pressure and stronger immune systems.
Finally, gratitude also helps people build a stronger community and stronger connections for themselves. People who regularly practice gratitude are often seen by others as being more helpful, trustworthy, and outgoing.
There is seemingly no downside to practicing gratitude, so the million dollar question is – how can we effectively practice gratitude to enjoy all of its benefits?
It’s actually quite simple. There are only two key steps to be able to practice true gratitude:
- Pay Attention: To find reasons to be grateful, you need to be watching the world around you. What small beautiful moments, fantastic things, or wonderful people are you taking for granted? What challenges are you facing that you could reframe in your mind as opportunities for growth or change? When we actively look for opportunities to practice gratitude, we start to notice that we are surrounded with things to be grateful for.
- Express your Gratitude: Recognizing your gratitude internally is not enough. Expressing gratitude allows you to complete the feeling of connection and fully enjoy the benefits that gratitude brings. You can express gratitude in a multitude of ways, such as: journaling about what you are grateful for, writing a letter to someone who you are grateful for, writing thank you notes, and practicing saying ‘thank you’ in a sincere and authentic way.
At Samaritans, we believe that community and connection are suicide prevention. And we know that gratitude enables us to feel more connected to the people and world around us. It’s no wonder that gratitude positively impacts mental health. During this holiday season, we hope you will give yourself the space to pay attention to the good around you and to express the gratitude you feel. We promise you won’t regret it!
- Sansone, Randy, MD. and Lori A. Sansone, MD. Gratitude and Well-Being: The Benefits of Appreciation. Psychiatry 2010.
- Stern, Robin, Phd. Ruler Newsletter: Gratitude Everyday. Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.