Imagine that you have just finished wrapping a present for a loved one. The gift is an expression of your feelings for this person. Now, what sense would it make to toss it in the garage to collect dust, rather than actually giving it? William Arthur Ward once wrote: “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
One of the biggest tragedies in American society isn’t just the lack of gratitude felt, but the failure to express it. Indeed, by keeping our grateful feelings to ourselves, we deprive the people we love of what they might need the most. Showing our thankfulness is one of the healthiest actions we can take, yet we are often unaware of its impact.
Gratitude Breeds Happiness
What if someone told you there was a way to make yourself happy at any moment during your everyday life? Showing gratitude is one of the easiest ways to boost your mood and ward off stress and depression.
A group did a small study analyzing levels of happiness. The participants were instructed to write about someone for whom they were grateful. Unbeknownst to them at the time, they were also going to call that person and recite their letters. The informal study revealed that the participants were happier after expressing gratitude than they were beforehand. But there have also been more formal studies.
Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, published a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology examining the impact of thankfulness on happiness. During the experiment, participants were divided into three separate groups. Each was instructed to keep daily journals on gratitude, annoyances, or neutral events. At the end of the ten-week study, those who were directed to write about events they appreciated reported that they had fewer physical ailments and were more optimistic. The group who wrote about annoyances were noticeably less happy, and the neutral group stayed, well, neutral.
Health Benefits of Gratitude
Studies have shown that those who live a life of gratitude tend to take better care of themselves while adopting healthy habits. It has been shown that gratefulness can:
- Improve your immune system.
- Reduce depression.
- Make you mentally tougher.
- Help you get better sleep.
When you’re thankful, you are better equipped to deal with stress and negative events that occur in your life. It does not eliminate negative emotions, but it helps you handle them in a healthier way.
One study examined Vietnam War veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One group was told to keep a gratitude journal while the other was not. Not surprisingly, the diary-keeping vets dealt with their symptoms far better.
How to Practice Gratitude
Now that you understand the positive effects of gratitude, it is essential that you know how to put it into action. Fortunately, this is not at all difficult. Many people keep a gratitude journal. They write three to five things for which they are grateful at the beginning or end of their day. Engaging in this routine can bring incredible benefits to your everyday life, but if you truly want to experience the life-changing nature of Thanksgiving, you might want to go further than just writing about it. The true power of gratitude comes from expressing it to the people who have positively affected your life. Put simply, there isn’t much that will feed your soul more than telling someone how they made a difference in your life.
Science has demonstrated that gratitude makes you happier, healthier, and more productive. When you embrace this practice, you reap tremendous rewards in your personal, professional, and spiritual life, and – just as importantly – you become a blessing to others.