The Power of Gratitude

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Written by Damon Enkeboll

With Thanksgiving rapidly approaching, many of us are taking the time to take stock of what we are thankful for. In my family, everyone sits around the dinner table and states what they are grateful for this year. 

I hate being put on the spot, so I often write out a list in advance. This year, my gratitude list is fairly long–I’m thankful that I have a job that accommodates my busy college schedule, for example, and bosses and coworkers who are understanding of my college commitments. I’m grateful to my professors who are giving me an education that will take me far. I’m thankful that my family and friends have stayed safe during the global pandemic that has affected us all so deeply over the past year and a half. 

I find that naming my sources of gratitude helps me feel better. I’m not alone in that feeling, and psychologists have actually been researching the link between gratitude and improved happiness. Dr. Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania performed a study where participants performed positive actions and scored their happiness. One of the tasks the participants had to perform was writing a letter to someone who had an impact on their life but had not been properly thanked for their kindness. Upon writing these letters and delivering them, Dr. Seligman found that the participants’ happiness scoring increased and stayed that way for a month. Dr. Seligman noted that this action of gratitude had the greatest effect of any of the positive action tests. 

Dr. Seligman is not the only one studying the effects of gratitude on health and wellbeing. In 2016, Laura S. Redwine, PhD. et al published a study in which participants with Stage B heart failure wrote gratitude journals. The researchers found that those who kept a journal for two months and reflected daily on what they were thankful for had lower levels of inflammatory hormones. The researchers also found that participants had a lower heart rate during strenuous exercise. Given these studies, signs point to gratitude not only making you feel better, but possibly improving your overall health as well.

Thanksgiving is an obvious time for showing gratitude to those around us. As I do every year, I will be making a list to present at dinner with my family; I also intend to use gratitude to make improvements in my life. 

There are many ways to reflect on what you are thankful for. Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. Start a gratitude journal – Like the participants of the heart health study, write down three or four things daily that you are grateful for.
  2. Meditation – Take 15 minutes to sit silently. Breathe deeply and reflect on the things that happened to you today that you are thankful for.
  3. Write a thank-you card – Did someone do something nice for you today? Yesterday? Five years ago? Write them a letter thanking them for their kindness. Dr. Seligman’s study showed that this is a great way to improve your overall happiness.

However you choose to reflect on and express your gratitude, I would encourage you to do it often. Thanksgiving is an excellent time to start, but exploring gratitude year round is key to maintaining well-being. 

References

Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions. In American Psychologist (Vol. 60, Issue 5, pp. 410–421). American Psychological Association (APA). https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066x.60.5.410

Redwine, L. S. PhD. et al. Pilot Randomized Study of a Gratitude Journaling Intervention on Heart Rate Variability and Inflammatory Biomarkers in Patients With Stage B Heart Failure. In Psychosomatic Medicine, 78 (6), 667-676. doi: 10.1097

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