November is commonly associated with the practice of Gratitude. This time of year, we tend to reflect on the people and things we appreciate the most as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches. What is not as commonly discussed is that practicing gratitude (in November and all year long) has significant health benefits! Maybe enough to balance out all the holiday goodies we consume? I’m not sure.
The World Health Organization defines health as “A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” In psychology research, expressing or recording thoughts on gratitude has been strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness, prosocial behaviors, and engagement. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, fully enjoy good experiences, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. These factors are key for mental and social well-being, making it easier to achieve all desired health outcomes.
One commonly cited study on practicing gratitude came from two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami. In this study they asked all participants to write a few sentences in a journal each week. One group wrote about things that occurred during the week for which they were grateful. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were significantly more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.
Other studies have shown that expressing gratitude can improve relationships, such as a study between couples who took the time to regularly express words of gratitude towards their partner. This practice not only improved their positive feelings towards their partner over time, but also improved their comfort level with expressing concerns.
There are many ways to practice gratitude and reap these health benefits. Here are a few ideas: 1. Thank someone – for anything – big or small, 2. Write a thank you note, 3. Write a few sentences in a journal, 4. Set aside a few moments to think and reflect each day, or even each week. And, for the sake of your health, continue this practice past November and into the new year!
~ Kali LaRue, DPT