I recently wrote an article about Halloween. I argued that it’s actually a whole lot of fun and we should embrace it. Some people responded enthusiastically. Many were fuming. How could I support such a terrible tradition? So… that one didn’t go so well. In spite of that, I’m trying again – this time in support of another American tradition. And frankly, this is one that I love.
It’s the tradition of Thanksgiving.
I reckon that regardless of how much you hate American traditions (including Halloween), if there was one that was worth practicing, it would be Thanksgiving. Now I know that there are tinges of colonialism, white privilege, and that whole ‘pilgrim’ thing that we probably want to shake (or that, in the case of pilgrims, are wholly irrelevant). For those who are fully woke, you won’t want to compromise, but here’s why I love thanksgiving: There is a mountain of scientifically-backed reasons showing that being grateful is really, really good for us.
Six Science-Backed Benefits of Gratitude
Gratitude makes us happier. The science is clear. Happier people are grateful. And grateful people are happier. In fact experimental studies show if we can get people to practice gratitude and they literally become happier – especially those who are most depressed. But not only that, gratitude makes us feel more gratitude. It works like this – when we are in a grateful state, we feel gratitude more frequently and with more intensity. This leads to us feeling gratitude for longer and for more things. Which in turn, increases our grateful state. Which in turn boosts our wellbeing. It’s a positive feedback loop.
Supports Emotional Wellbeing
Being grateful is a key part of maintaining our emotional wellbeing. It decreases toxic emotions including envy, resentment, regret, and frustration. And it reduces the risk of depression, anxiety, and suicide. It helps us build resilience so we can battle through the low parts of our lives and come out stronger in the future.
Builds Social Capital
Gratitude makes people like us. In two studies with 243 total participants, those who were 10% more grateful than average, had 17.5% more social capital. Why is that? Because gratitude makes us nicer, more appreciative, and even more social. Grateful people are more open to making friends and, even more, they tend to spend time deepening their existing relationships, including their marriages. When you invest in people, they will invest in you as well. Grateful people do this well. And perhaps happy people do it well too, which increases their gratitude. There’s that positive feedback loop again.
Increases Good Health
Grateful people are healthier. Studies show they feel less aches and pains generally, and they visit the doctor less frequently, and with fewer complaints. They also have better health in the long term as they are more likely to exercise and have regular health check-ups. Gratitude also helps you sleep better and have increased energy. And being grateful has been shown to literally help the heart by decreasing heart disease. A positive mental attitude fends of depression, decreases stress, and lowers anxiety all of which decrease the risk of heart disease. Physiologically grateful people have lower levels of plaque build-up in the arteries, lower levels of bad cholesterol, higher levels of good cholesterol, lower blood pressure and even demonstrate a steadier heart rate. All from experiencing more gratitude.
Boosts Our Personality
Gratitude gives our personality a spit-shine. It makes us more optimistic, reduces materialism (which is strongly associated with reduced wellbeing and increased rates of mental disorder), and increases generosity, especially in adolescents. Most importantly, gratitude increases our self-esteem. Grateful people take kindness at face value and appreciate it. On the other hand, people with low self-esteem may view that same act with scepticism, which further contributes to low feelings.
Helps Your Career
Expressing gratitude can give careers a boost. It helps us network by increasing our social capital and allowing us to open up to relationships that can help us succeed – such as mentors or benefactors. Gratitude also improves decision making by increasing our patience and allowing us space to understand the best way forward. Being grateful also helps people become better managers. The research is clear – when people are thanked for their work, they are more motivated and engaged, leading to better productivity and morale.
How to Increase Gratitude
None of the science will work if we don’t actually practice gratitude. Feeling grateful is a learned skill, and practice makes perfect. But increasing gratitude is pretty easy. Here’s how. Say thank you. Say it out loud if you can, and in your head if you can’t, but say it often no matter how you do it. Keep a gratitude journal. Studies show that people who wrote in a gratitude journal for just five minutes a week, experienced increased benefits from feeling grateful. Have a gratitude round robin. At dinner, or in the car, go around to each member of the family and ask them what they are thankful for that day. These little things refocus our attention on the good and help us feel more grateful. Write a letter of thanks. Some of the most robust gratitude science shows writing a letter of appreciation and then reading it to the recipient provides well-being boosts that last over 6 months!
Gratitude works because it allows us to acknowledge and recognise the good that we have, and the growth we’ve achieved through experiencing the bad. It teaches us to see what we have rather than what we don’t have. America might have Thanksgiving on lock down, but they certainly don’t own gratitude. So, spend five minutes being grateful this week and see how such a small thing can have a big impact.
For more on how to improve the relationships in your life, Relationship Rules is available here