Certainly, expressing gratitude to someone uplifts them, but there’s an increasing amount of research from Robert Emmons, Martin Seligman, Michael McCullough and others, that shows expressing gratitude also helps the personal well-being of the person expressing it. With the holiday season coming up, what better time to look at the benefits of expressing gratitude.
Gratitude, according to the dictionary, is the quality of being thankful and the readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. Essentially, it’s acknowledging the good things in your life and the good things others do for you.
So you might ask, how can expressing gratitude, other than perhaps a momentary good feeling, really help the person expressing it? It involves the very complex relationship between brain chemistry, endocrine functions, thoughts, moods and other physiological aspects of your body. As an example, consider when you have felt angry, jealous or loving. Can’t those feelings affect us for long periods of time?
Current research shows significant positive effects from expressing gratitude, including increased well-being, less lonely feelings, reduced depression and increased positivity, more joy, optimism, happiness and more empathy and less aggression. Other more physical benefits include lower blood pressure, stronger immune systems and better sleep. Research also suggests that by practicing gratitude it becomes more a part of you and the long-term benefits improve and last longer.
So how can you work on expressing your feelings of gratitude? Some use a gratitude journal to write down the kindnesses done for them or the people they value and things they enjoy. Perhaps you could just take time out of the day to sit and briefly consider the positive aspects of your life — what is good, what is right and how it makes you feel. If you are having a hard day, consider the things you are thankful for such as loved ones, health, job, or even the basics of having clothes, food and a roof over your head. When mad at someone, whether a significant other, children, co-workers, or friends, consider if there aren’t also reasons you are grateful for them.
Certainly, we all have challenges in our lives, including at times health problems, loss of loved ones, financial burdens or other negative issues. When faced with those consider what you do have, which won’t necessarily solve the problems you face but can help you get through the day.
Of course, don’t forget the basics, such as smiling more and saying thank you for the simple things such as someone holding open a door. Also, consider the perhaps forgotten pastime of writing notes of gratitude to others who have helped you or given you a gift. It’s suggested that making a pledge with yourself to express more gratitude will help to make this a larger part of your life, ensuring those long-term benefits.
Feelings of gratitude and expressing gratitude can help block negative emotions and have profound and long-lasting positive effects for you and others. Another great thing is that expressing gratitude costs nothing and doesn’t have to take much time.
Thought for the day: “Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts toward others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.” —Dalai Lama.
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