“Gratitude heals, energizes and changes lives. It is the prism through which we view life in terms of gifts, givers, goodness and grace.” (Emmons, NYTimes, 2023).
Definition and Research on Gratitude
At this moment, many are in the midst of getting ready for the holiday season; however, for others, “the world is on fire” with global turmoil. As such, it is so timely to bring gratitude to the forefront. Many of us first learned about gratitude from our parents or grandparents when we were taught to say “thank you” as we gathered together for a meal or received a gift. But since the early 2000s, the study of gratitude has been a focus of scientific examination, particularly in the field of psychology. One of the preeminent scholars on gratitude, Robert Emmons, Ph.D., defines gratitude as “an affirmation of goodness”. Gratitude involves acknowledging that there are good things in the world; and appreciating the gifts and benefits we’ve received. Emmons further delineates a second part of gratitude by adding that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves; that is, in other people, in experiences, or from a higher power. There has been other research that looks at gratitude as one of the key religious virtues, along with humility and compassion (Krause & Hayward, 2015). And neuroimaging research has shown that gratitude activates brain regions in the prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex–areas of the brain that are associated with reward, empathy and moral cognition. Thus, gratitude is being studied in many disciplines and thought about in many ways.
Benefits of Gratitude
Research on gratitude has delineated several benefits which we can all apply to our daily lives. Four major types of benefits include:
- Psychological and Spiritual Health Benefits
Greater self esteem, happiness, optimism, and resilience; lowers stress, anxiety and depression, helps in the recovery of trauma, grief and addiction, facilitates forgiveness, empathy, vitality and a sense of fulfillment
- Physical health benefits
Better sleep, better pain tolerance, lower blood pressure, stronger immune system, extends lifespan
- Social Benefits
Strengthens romantic relationships, improves relationships with friends and family relationships; opens the door to new relationships
Enhances productivity, decision making skills, cooperation and retention; reinforces clearer communication, creates a more positive and healthy work environment
Ideas For Cultivating and Practicing Gratitude
Cultivating and practicing gratitude is a straightforward pathway for greater mental health and overall well-being. Gratitude is more than a feeling however, and so to fully benefit, incorporating gratitude into our daily routine for self-care and wellness is recommended! Some easy ways to practice gratitude are listed below.
- Reflect on your day: Take a few minutes to acknowledge the things that you are grateful for that happen every day. What is one good thing that happened today? What went well in a friend or family members life today for which I’m grateful?
- Reflect on your culture: In what ways has my culture been a source of strength for me? In what ways has my culture contributed to society?
- Prayer and Meditation: Praying is a form of gratitude in giving thanks to a higher power and is often already a daily practice. Likewise, forms of meditation can center gratitude and be incorporated and practiced daily.
- Keep a gratitude journal: Write down the things each day for which you are grateful. Even during difficult times, you can consider what strengths have I developed as a result of this stressful experience? Who supports or inspires me when my life overwhelms me?
- Write a thank you note: These days sending thanks often comes in the form of an emoji such as folded hands, thumbs up, hearts or a smiling face with smiling eyes. But writing a thank you note or letter provides the opportunity for you to share the details of your feelings of gratitude and how the person impacted you.
- Express your appreciation to someone you encounter: Saying thank you can be related to receiving a service that you appreciate, but appreciation can also be shared with someone just for them being who they are, for example, “thank you for wearing those colorful clothes that brightened my day!”
- Put together a Gratitude Playlist: Research has shown that listening to music can have many positive mental health benefits so coupling those with the benefits of gratitude packs a “powerful punch”. Across music genres, from hip hop to blues to rock and pop, songs of gratitude often bring in romance, family and friends. But even in heartbreak, there can be gratitude “in dodging a bullet” when time and retrospection provides a sense of gratitude for endings that served a good purpose.
- Krause, N., & Hayward, R. D. (2015). Humility, compassion, and gratitude to god: Assessing the relationships among key religious virtues. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 7(3), 192-204. https://doi.org/10.1037/rel0000028