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by Margaret Fiero
Thanksgiving is one day a year, yet research shows that giving thanks has benefits when practiced year-round. The Greater Good Science Center, (GGSC) based out of the University of California, Berkeley, studies the effects of gratitude on our lives, and has shown that giving thanks regularly can lead to beneficial outcomes such as: increased positive emotions, increased happiness, more generous and compassionate actions, decreased feelings of loneliness and isolation, as well as physical effects such as lower blood pressure and stronger immune systems. These benefits, among others, were found in a wide range of subjects who kept gratitude journals for just three weeks.
It’s unsurprising to learn that gratitude has social benefits. When we assess what we are grateful for, we often cite our loved ones and what they offer us, as well as attributes in ourselves that benefit others and our relationships (for example: “my compassion”; “my sense of humor”; “my cooking skills.”) I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we don’t live in a vacuum. Relationships are the meat of life, yet how often do we take our partner, our family members, and our friends for granted? Taking a few minutes to assess how grateful you are for your spouse’s smile might make you forget how annoyed you are that he left his dirty underwear out, and instead focus on the big picture.
Initially the physical effects seem more unexpected, but upon further thought it makes sense. When we’re stewing in anger, resentment, and bitterness, it seems logical that it could negatively affect us physically. After all, rage and stress are seen as contributing factors to heart disease and blood pressure. Conversely, if we keep a more positive outlook, it’s bound to contribute to our overall well-being.
The most intriguing part is the simpleness of the intervention. Taking ten minutes weekly to jot down in a gratitude journal three to five things that you’re thankful for can yield these positive results. What do you write? It can be anything, such as the relational aspects of our lives for which we’re grateful, our unique talents we often downplay, our quirks that set us apart, or little things in the world around us that we often don’t take the time to notice (ie: a lizard scurrying across the sidewalk, beautiful wildflowers growing on the side of the highway, or the color of the sky). If you’re naturally pessimistic, take heart! All it takes is practice to access your grateful side. The GGSC offers these tips for cultivating gratitude.
GGSC also has created a shareable, digital gratitude journal at Thnx4.org, a very cool option for those who are more digitally-minded or want a social element to their gratitude journaling. I recommend, in fact, just browsing the GGSC website. It’s chock full of videos, journal articles, and easy guides for infusing gratitude into your daily life. If we could be of help in teaching gratitude, you can contact us to make a counseling appointment. If you liked this post and would like to learn more about growth, you can read How to Control Your Anger and Saving Some Time for Self-Care.