Thanksgiving is almost here, and we know this is the season for giving thanks. Tunde shares the benefits of expressing gratitude during other parts of the year. The positive effects that he outlines may surprise you!
Gratitude and Your Health
By: Tunde Aideyan, BA
Thanksgiving is upon us. Holidays are the time of year where we can take a few days off from work, spend time with family, and eat to our heart’s desire. However, Thanksgiving holds the special distinction for being the holiday where we give thanks to what we value the most, and even the things that we tend to overlook from time to time. Thanksgiving is the holiday where we express gratitude for the people and things that keep us going on a daily basis, and an opportunity to give back to the community.
What exactly is gratitude? Is it a virtue, or is it a feeling? Or maybe a positive emotional reaction to an event or experience? Gratitude has many definitions in psychology research, but a general meaning is the following; gratitude is the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself and represents a general state of appreciation. This definition of gratitude transcends the overtones of receiving something that one may be grateful for, and includes being thankful for experiences such as being alive or the health of your children. The aforementioned definition truly coincides with what we recognize during the Thanksgiving holiday. Thanksgiving is not just about being thankful for what is directly in front of us (i.e. food, a few days off work), but also the circumstances and personal characteristics that contribute to our overall well-being.
However, gratitude is not something we should express during the Thanksgiving holiday, but throughout the year. In a nutshell, research has shown that gratitude is directly associated with overall well-being and health. In one research study, participants
were asked to journal about negative experiences, while another study group was asked to journal about neutral life events, and a third group journaled about positive experiences. The positive group was associated with higher well-being in comparison to the other groups, and increases in happiness. In another study, participants were asked to do a gratitude exercise, which was counting their blessings. When compared to another group without a gratitude condition, results showed that the gratitude group experienced greater life satisfaction.
To reiterate, research has shown that gratitude is associated with greater life satisfaction, well-being, and often times health. Within the counseling profession, providers are always concerned with both the psychological and physiological health of clients, and well-being plays a big part in that. Counselors provide clients with interpretations and feedback so that they may seek and acquire greater well-being within their own lives. One school of thought in the field of mental health treatment is positive psychology. Positive psychology is a counseling approach that encourages clients to focus on their strengths rather than their problems, and bring awareness to the positive experiences in their lives. Positive psychology focuses on growth and life satisfaction, rather than the mental distress that pervades our personal experiences.
Gratitude plays a significant role in many positive psychology interventions. But you don’t need to book an appointment with your mental health provider to become more grateful and become more aware of your positive life experiences. There are a number of positive psychology practices that you can begin incorporating today. Below are a few of the most popular interventions that positive psychology counselors employ
- Three Good Things – Clients are asked to document at least 3 good things that have happened to them on a daily basis, and the causes of those good things. Clients are encouraged to perform this exercise for a week, but the greatest benefit is achieved after a month. Three good things has been associated with increases in happiness after one week, one month, and six months of documenting the experiences.
- Gratitude Letter – Write a hand-written letter to a person that you are particularly grateful for having in your life, and be detailed. This exercise has been associated with increases in life satisfaction and decreases in depressive symptoms. The last step of the exercise is to deliver the letter to the individual.
- Counting Kindness – This intervention requires that you count and report acts of kindness that you perform every day for a week or longer. This exercise has also been associated with increases in happiness, and decreases in depressive symptoms.
These positive interventions are exercises that you can implement right away, and are meant to bring awareness to the positive and good things you experience on a daily basis. It is important to be thankful for the positive things in our lives, but by doing so we develop behaviors and cognitions that improve happiness, satisfaction, and overall well-being. So for this holiday season we encourage you to write a gratitude letter, or start documenting those three good things. But gratitude and positivity are things we should keep with us year round, and the benefits will follow.