A growing body of research in the field of positive psychology suggests that gratitude can uplift the human spirit and provide many benefits in people’s lives.
By Melody Smith, BA
We associate Thanksgiving Day with the gathering of family and friends around a great feast, parades, football games, and helping others. “Turkey Day” also gives pause to express gratitude or give thanks in any number of ways. For many people, however, the approaching holiday season is marked with depression, anxiety, and grief.. While some ring in the holiday season with cheer, others are left wondering how to cope with yet another holiday.
A growing body of research in the field of positive psychology suggests that gratitude can uplift the human spirit and provide many benefits in people’s lives. An article from Happier Human summarized 31 benefits of gratitude. The benefits can be broken down into five categories: emotional; social; personality; career, and health benefits. In addition, the article references current research on gratitude and examines exactly how researchers measure gratitude.
While space does not allow for a full reevaluation of each of the 28 benefits of gratitude, let’s take an overview of each of the five categories:
- Emotional Benefits: The research indicates practicing gratitude positively influences emotional health by improving self-esteem, overall happiness, feelings of well-being, and can even reduce suicidal ideation.
- Social Benefits: When we focus on finding gratitude, we notice the social support that we might have taken for granted over time. Gratitude broadens our network of friends and enhances our established relationships. Those who practice gratitude have greater access to ongoing social support, reliable family relationships, and resources in times of stress or crisis.
- Personality Benefits: There is evidence that practicing gratitude can make you a more optimistic person. A renewed sense of optimism can reroute your brain to more positive thinking. Looked at another way—optimism begets optimism. Research also shows that spirituality can enhance the benefits of gratitude, as well as the other way around. Moreover, grateful people appear to be more altruistic and less materialistic. Remember that spirituality can be practiced in a church, in nature, or anywhere you find serenity.
- Career Benefits: Evidence suggests the benefits of gratitude extend to the workplace, especially at the managerial level where sensible decision-making, guiding and motivating subordinates is essential. Practicing gratitude helps employees find meaning in their work, feel appreciated, thus reducing job stress and turnover.
- Health Benefits: Gratitude improves physical health. According to the evidence, grateful people have less depression, better blood pressure, better quality sleep, and exercise more often. Likewise, gratitude is beneficial when it comes to recovering from substance abuse, cardiac events, and dealing with mental health issues.
With so many advantages to being grateful, the findings of positive psychology researchers seem simply too good to be true. Poet and essayist Henry David Thoreau once said, “I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.” Thoreau suggests, along with much of the gratitude research, that Thanksgiving is not just for one day a year, but it is something that should be nurtured continuously.