Gratitude moves our mind’s attention towards the positive and beneficial things in our lives… Things that support us, keep us going and growing, giving us strength, courage, access to resources, and more. Expression of gratitude can be used as a mindfulness practice to entrain our mind to turn towards what is working. This is opposite to experiences like depression, anxiety, and anger, all of which focus on what is not working.
Negative thoughts and emotions are self-propagating. While these emotional experiences can be informative, dwelling on them can have an effect of trapping us in a cycle. This activity is inherent in our mental space as a survival mechanism that keeps us vigilant. However, if it is uncontrolled, it can lead to imbalance and disease.
Gratitude and Psychological health:
To start, individuals with a focus on gratitude have a greater self-reliance or autonomy, by 17%, compared to others. They also have 62% greater awareness of their surroundings described as “environmental mastery”. They experience greater personal growth (by 54%) and are more aware of their purpose in life (by 46%). Additionally, they also express greater self-acceptance (by 62%) and have more positive relationships (by 54%).1
Gratitude also has negative correlations with “neuroticism”. For example, with gratitude individuals are 20% less likely to hold on to anger/hostility and 31% less likely to experience depression. Individuals also have 27% less experience of vulnerability and 12% less self-consciousness. There is also a mild reduction in anxiety, about 3%.1
Gratitude and Physical health:
The experience and expression of gratitude is associated with diminished stress and improved sleep.2 Self-awareness, mental and emotional flexibility, creativity, and generativity of positive outlook resulting from gratitude all contribute to lower stress. This, in turn, has a calming effect on our adrenal system. Lowering stress hormones and improving the circadian rhythms of the body. This results in improved metabolism and reduces inflammation in the body. Better sleep quality also contributes to this effect by allowing the body to restore and rejuvenate from the day-to-day wear and challenges.
Positive emotions and thoughts effectively move us away from focusing on adverse emotions and experiences. Of course, positive thinking can be uplifting. But even better than this, it is relaxing to our nervous system; thus, allowing it to be more flexible, creative, and adaptive in face of our challenges. “Counting our blessings” or having an “attitude of gratitude” are not only cliché memes of the new age. They also serve a healing purpose for our mental and emotional health. Studies show us that gratitude promotes psychological well-being in very specific ways.
This is a time when we are bound to be overwhelmed by personal, economic, environmental, political and global crisis. Having a holiday centered around Gratitude may have beneficial implications on national and global health.
How we may express Gratitude:
Here are some ways we may experience or express gratitude in our day-to-day life (or just on that one Thursday in November).
- Appreciation of other people
- Focus on what we have and what is working
- Sense of Awe with what we experience
- Mindfulness: Regularly focusing on positive aspects of the present moment.
- Awareness of Impermanence: knowing life is short and we make the best of it.
- Positive social comparison: focus on what we inspire to be, who inspires us to be that way, gratitude for how we are better off than others.
Try this gratitude practice to support your personal cultivation:
Make a list of:
- 5 things you are grateful for today. Examples: Family, friends, your car, your dog or cat, having a home or a job, etc.
- 3 things that are working for you… Examples: Speaking the truth, standing up for yourself, getting good rest, taking a break, etc.
- 2 things you are working on… Eating out less… exercising more… having more space for personal work… more positive relationships… etc.
Now, notice how the “5 things that you are grateful for” and “3 things working for you” can help you in achieving the 2 things you are working on…
Wood AM, et al. “Gratitude predicts psychological well-being above the Big Five facets.” Personality and Individual Differences 46 (2009) 443–447.
Wood AM, et al. “Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration.” Clinical Psychology Review 30 (2010) 890–905.