On the benefits of gratitude

Be grateful.

Of course, I love this topic. Gratitude, it turns out, is really good for your health.

Admit it, there are lots of people for whom you are grateful. Maybe your spouse, kids, or other family members. Maybe a teacher that inspired you or a mentor who guided your career. Or maybe just the person that held the elevator door for you when you had five grocery bags, a stroller, and 2-year-old begging to picked up. But let’s face it, you probably don’t express gratitude to others as much as you could. And being grateful, it just so happens, is good for you, really good for you.

Much of the research on gratitude and positive psychology stems from the work of Dr. Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough. In a simple study from 2003, they asked a group of individuals to write down every week the things for which they were grateful (a ‘gratitude journal’). There were two other groups, those who wrote down the things that made them unhappy, and those that just wrote down events that had happened, good or bad. You guessed it, the individuals who wrote down things for which they were grateful felt better overall, had fewer physical symptoms, and felt better about their lives as a whole. That simple.

More recently, Martin Seligman, author of Flourish and Professor of Psychology at UPenn has furthered our understanding of the benefits of positive psychology. He and others have done plenty of research showing us that being grateful is good for many aspects of life, including:

  • Better relationships
  • Better sleep
  • Less aggressive behavior
  • Less anxiety and depression
  • And even better cardiac outcomes…

I acknowledge that expressing gratitude can’t cure all ills, but the idea is that gratitude makes you stop and appreciate what you already have, and focus less on what you don’t have. Furthermore, expressing thanks to others can make you feel better about yourself. Brilliant.

So how do you do it? Yes, cultivating gratitude might feel a little awkward at first, but here are some examples (pick your own recipient and your favorite mode of communication):

  • If you actually like to and remember how to talk to other human beings… A simple ‘thank you’ will suffice.
  • Prefer email? – try something like this… ‘Hey there, just felt like writing a quick note to say thanks for everything. Thanks!’
  • Better off communicating in 140 characters? – here’s a sample tweet… ‘thanks @AshvinPande! #gratefulforeverythingyoudoformeeveryday’
  • Prefer not to do anything at all – well, at least try just thinking nice thoughts about someone else. That may work too.

Everyone expresses gratitude differently. However you choose to do it, just do it, because it turns out to be really good for your health.

Rx: Gratitude.

Happy thanksgiving!

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