Dr. Rachell N. Anderson
Thanksgiving is a time for giving thanks for all we’ve been given-our families, our health, the turkey and all the fixing and, the almighty king of them all-football. Many people who engage in these activities report they feel better about their lives for days following the celebrations. So November is a good time to review the mental health benefits of gratitude — and to consider some advice about how to cultivate this state of mind throughout the year.
The Thanksgiving holiday began when the colonists gave thanks to show gratitude for their survival in America and for a good harvest. The word gratitude means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what we receive, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives and realize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack.
Psychological research has shown that more doesn’t make people happier. Dr. Edward Diener, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois found that a high percentage of affluent people report low levels of life satisfaction as compared to many who have little. Further, he found that your attitude plays a large role in determining whether you can feel grateful in the face of life’s challenges.
Dr. Robert Emmons from the University of California, Davis found it is not what you have but how you feel about it that makes the difference. His research has found that those who adopt an attitude of gratitude as a permanent state of mind experience many health benefits including: feeling happier, having more energy, are healthier, are more resilient, have better relationships and, have a brighter view of the future.
Emmons suggests that from an evolutionary perspective, feelings of gratitude probably helped bind communities. When people appreciate the goodness that they've received, they feel compelled to give back. And this mental state grows stronger with use and practice. People can't help but pay gratitude forward. When appreciation is expressed, it triggers a biological response in the recipient's brain, including a surge of the feel-good chemical, dopamine.
It turns out, the same practice helps make our brains and bodies healthier. When we notice kindness and other gifts from which we've benefitted, our brains become wired to seek out the positives in any situation. As a result, we're better at bouncing back from loss and trauma. According to Emmons, "A grateful stance toward life is relatively immune to misfortune," We see the blessings, not just the curses.
An study reported in 2012 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology of more than 300 couple found that those who felt appreciated by their partners were more likely to appreciate their partners in return and the relationship improved, compared with couples who didn't feel appreciated by each other. In Marriage Therapy, couples are often encouraged to find and express at least 3 things done by their spouses in any given day and replace that with criticism. So when you express gratitude toward a spouse, a colleague, or a friend, he or she feels grateful in return, and the back-and-forth continues. Christine Carter, a sociologist at the Greater Good Science Center, at the University of California, Berkeley, notes that gratitude can rewire our brains to appreciate the things in our relationships that are going well. She says. “You can't be grateful and resentful at the same time.”
These findings suggest that grateful people are more likely to take better care of themselves and their relationships and live happier, more productive lives.
What’s a Person To Do?
1. Be mindful of what you have and have had and give thanks for it whether it from the past or present.
2. Keep a Gratitude Journal. Make a note of at least 5 things for which you’re grateful each day.
3. Reframe situations as positive rather than negative.
4. Maintain a hopeful and optimistic attitude.
5. Vow not to take your good fortune for granted.
November is a good time to be grateful. However it’s good to count your blessings everyday. We all can to this.
Dr. Rachell Anderson is a native of Tunica, a licensed Clinical Psychologist, a Professor Emeritus and author. She taught at the University of Illinois and ran a Private Clinical Practice in Springfield, Illinois for many years. She now lives and writes in Tunica, Mississippi. Check out her website at WWW.drrachellanderson.com for more articles and books. here to edit.