This is the time of year my thoughts turn to being thankful for the abundance in my life. It is the Thanksgiving holiday, of course, but November is also the month I’ve suffered great tragedy and loss in my life. Through this tragedy and loss, however, I’ve been able to find grace and a focus on what I have rather than what I’ve lost.
As I’ve written about previously, Thanksgiving is the time of year when we are reminded to express our gratitude, yet certainly shouldn’t be limited to only this time of a year.
In fact, many studies have found that having a grateful outlook and regularly expressing gratitude to others has positive effects on our emotional health as well as our relationships. Some studies have further discovered that our physical health can also benefit by expressing gratitude.
“Gratitude heals, energizes and changes lives,” says psychologist Robert A. Emmons. “It is the prism through which we view life in terms of gifts, givers, goodness, and grace.”
Some studies asked participants to write letters of thanks or list positive things in their lives. The effects of those acts revealed mental health benefits such as reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, increased self-esteem, and overall greater satisfaction with life.
What is especially profound is that not only does this expression of gratitude improve the well-being of the giver and receiver, but it may also be good for those who simply witness it. Observing an act of gratitude between people can cause the one watching to feel warmth towards the others.
Here are some suggested ways to express gratitude:
- Write a handwritten note of thanks to people you are grateful for. This can have a dramatic effect as it is so rarely done in this age of electronic communication.
- Thank your direct reports and colleagues for their contributions. Be specific on what you are grateful for as this dramatically improves its impact.
- Perform random acts of kindness: use your turn signal when changing lanes or making a turn, open or hold a door for a stranger, simply make eye contact and smile when passing someone on the street.
- Write down what you are grateful for each night before going to sleep. This will help you sleep better and improve your outlook in the morning.
- Create a gratitude jar and provide slips of paper where you can easily write down what you’re grateful for and drop it in the jar. Watching the contents grow will continually remind you of the abundance in your life.
- Catch yourself when you find you’re feeling jealous of others’ good fortune. Avoid comparing yourself to others by limiting your time on social media.
- Remember to appreciate what you have rather than what you lack. This could be your health, family, friends, job, or your freedom.
- Take a walk in nature and be grateful for all that cannot be adequately simulated by technology: Physically moving your body, breathing fresh air, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of all that surrounds you.
Regardless of how you express gratitude, find ways to do it regularly as this will sustain your good health and well-being.
“I think the benefits of gratitude activities truly unfold through long-term habits,” said Joel Wong, a professor of counseling psychology at Indiana University’s School of Education. Dr. Wong has a list of 100 questions as prompts for expressing gratitude. These include both micro and macro gratitude questions, as well as those that are interpersonal and redemptive.
The greatness of expressing gratitude is how simple and meaningful it can be. It’s good for your health. It doesn’t cost anything. It will likely improve your relationships. And expressing gratitude may benefit even those witnessing it from the sidelines. Be grateful for yourself and for others.