With Thanksgiving around the corner, the official season of expressing gratitude is upon us again, challenging us to reflect on the things in life for which we are most thankful. Not only for the holidays, but year-round, gratitude turns out to be one of the most effective tools we have for adding positivity not only to the lives of others, but to our own lives as well. Why gratitude?
Research shows that saying “thank you” and feeling gratitude are good for us as well as for the people we are thanking. When we say “thank you” or express gratitude to someone else, we must leave the confines of our own private experience and consider others and our relationship to them – two things that have been shown to improve adaptive functioning.
Indeed, studies show that the practice of gratitude is associated with:
- increased happiness and optimism
- strengthened immune systems
- lower blood pressure
- increased generosity and compassion
- reduced feelings of loneliness and isolation
The Squeaky Wheel Shouldn’t Always Get the Grease
Sometimes the squeaky wheel shouldn’t get the grease. While we are set up neurologically to attend to pain and discomfort, we have a hard time detaching from it. We can easily become mired in thinking only about the negative, and then we struggle to get out of the negative spiral our anxiety can cause. Indeed, negative feelings, and anxiety in particular, invite us to action, sending us important messages that deserve our attention. However, when we focus on the negative aspects of a situation, it is easy to get lost in negative feelings and miss the bigger picture – the opportunity to take action. When we focus on greasing only the squeaky wheel, we end up neglecting all the other wheels.
Gratitude Expands Our Perspective
Taking a general “attitude of gratitude” helps us keep a broader perspective on our place in relation to others, and protects us from getting too wrapped up in ourselves. When we search for reasons to be thankful, we are focusing on the positive – an exercise that is well-known to help alleviate negative thinking and the negative feelings that follow. Because feelings follow thoughts, it pays to be vigilant about the thoughts we engage. Focusing on positive thoughts, and the feelings of gratitude that naturally follow, allows us to broaden our perspective, especially when we get mired in the negative.
Gratitude Builds Connection with Others
Expressing gratitude to others is a basic tenet of human interaction, and it helps us build interpersonal connection and relationships. There is never a bad or inappropriate time to express gratitude or to say “thank you.” People love to hear that they are appreciated, and we feel closer to people when we express gratitude – a powerful display of authenticity and vulnerability.
Gratitude is a Choice
Finally, gratitude is a choice. While there will always be elements of our lives with which we struggle, choosing to see the positive is an exercise that builds mental resilience. Any time you are in a challenging situation, the act of asking yourself what you are grateful for will literally change your feelings for the better.
Where our thoughts go, our feelings follow. So don’t be afraid to think positively and ask yourself what you can be grateful for today.