Thanksgiving is that time of year when thoughts of gratitude and tokens of appreciation are freely expressed. Gratitude for those people in your life that matter, for your successes or perhaps for adversity you have overcome. In short for your many blessings. But the truth is, giving thanks and appreciation can become a foundation stone for year round fulfillment and inner contentment. A health and happiness boosting habit that can become a key ingredient for a life of real vitality. Not just for thanksgiving weekend but every day of every month of the year. As a medical doctor with a special interest in positive health and lifestyle medicine, I really appreciate that a healthy dose of gratitude can be good medicine for the mind, body and soul. Not just for the many patients I meet every single day suffering from effects of negative stress but indeed for anyone interested in becoming healthier and boosting inner happiness. Having a regular gratitude practice as part of your program for selfcare is something I routinely recommend. In fact along with physical exercise I believe it to be a key way to enhance your overall vitality. With good reason too, as demonstrated by a growing body of science and research from the emergent field of positive psychology.
A question I’m often asked is just why this habit of appreciation and expressing gratitude is so beneficial?As they say if you know your why the How gets easier.
Here are thirteen reasons to consider why:
1. Want What You Have.
To want what you have reminds me of that wonderful poem The Rose Garden by Saadi who wrote ‘I bemoaned the fact I had no shoes, until I saw the man who had no feet.’Being grateful simply allows you to focus more on those good things that you have right now in your life. When you want what you already have, you appreciate their value even more whereas when you are simply striving for what you don’t have you are saying to yourself that you don’t have enough, thereby depreciating the value of everything you have in your life right now.
2. Boost Happiness.
Boost your long term inner happiness and sense of fulfillment by at least ten percent by simply writing in a journal about three things you feel grateful for thirty days consecutively. This engages your subconscious mind in paying attention to what’s going well in your life rather than on any stressors or problems. I call it my thirty day gratitude challenge. Simply noticing what you already have makes you feel more positive about your life. Try it and see for yourself.
3. Overcome ‘Gratitude Deficiency Syndrome.’
By this I mean the culture of ingratitude so prevalent nowadays where so many have a sense of entitlement and expectancy. Living with what I call scarcity mentality (the belief that enough is never enough) and comparing yourself negatively to others (I call this ‘compareitis.’) Abdicating responsibility, wanting to reap but not sow, expecting instant solutions to every complex problem or challenged relationship. Expressing gratitude protects you from this deficiency syndrome by tuning your thinking towards a sense of abundance and appreciation for your many gifts and life blessings.
4. Move from Head to Heart
Quite simply, expressing gratitude is a positivity habit that brings more creativity, joy and vitality into your life. Build your emotional bank account with a buffer of positivity to support you in times of stress while boosting your levels of empathy, compassion and kindness. Opening your heart in this way enables you to realise more of the true happiness, meaning and fulfilment your life contains.
5. Build Resilience
Power up your psychological fitness and mental wellbeing. Feeling better about your life circumstances boosts your self-esteem and self-worth. Gratitude can increase your level of optimism by five to fifteen percent. Expressing gratitude builds real resilience and a sense of gritty persistence, enabling you to work more effectively towards your goals and to grow as a person. In this way life’s inevitable setbacks, adversities and struggles become opportunities to become wiser, stronger and better.
6. Antidote Against Negative Stress.
Expressing gratitude is such a powerful antidote against negative stress and needless negativity that I consider it to be an anti anxiety vaccine. It's simply not possible to feel grateful and negative, envious or hostile at the same time. Try it and see for yourself. Expressing gratitude is a great way to destress; moving you away from the ‘fight or flight’ stress response and towards the restorative, relaxation response. By refocusing attention away from negative stress and worry, expressing gratitude can help you reframe stressful life experiences in a more positive light.
7. Improved Relationships
Like a powerful magnet attracting positivity towards you, gratitude is a terrific way to boost your relationships, widen your circle of friends and degree of connectedness with others. In addition you enhance how thankful and trustworthy you appear to others which leads to enhanced social support. After all more grateful people are happier, and simply more fun to be around.
8. Better Physical Health
Expressing gratitude can support better physical health. Writing about ‘three good things’ in a journal at nighttime enables you to sleep better. It can strengthen your immune system, lower inflammatory markers, lower blood pressure while enabling you to more effectively maintain any new habit you want to incorporate into your life (that new exercise program for example). An attitude of gratitude enables you to better value and appreciate your physical health and thereby take the positive steps to stay on the path of long term health and wellbeing. I often meet patients who simply take their health for granted unless they lose it when they will spend every waking hour trying to get it back.
9. Forgive And Let Go
Expressing gratitude fosters forgiveness and a sense of freedom from regrets of the past and future anxiety. It enables you to better let go of the past, of the need to be right and to embrace acceptance. Therefore realising that right now in this moment you have enough and you are enough.
10. Reduce Depression
Expressing gratitude boosts your mental health, with the result you become less likely to feel lonely, anxious or depressed. Research has found that keeping a regular gratitude diary can reduce depressive symptoms by up to thirty five percent for as long as this practice continues. Gratitude can be a protective factor in people suffering from negative stress and depression who have suicidal thoughts. By building inner resilience, gratitude can also become a valuable support strategy in a program of recovery from substance abuse and addiction.
11. Move To Being
Become more present and live more in the moment, rather than simply for the moment. Gratitude supports savouring of the simple daily pleasures of life, to better enjoy the journey of today rather than simply the destination of tomorrow.
12. Boost Spiritual Wellbeing
In terms of your spiritual wellbeing, expressing gratitude connects you more closely with your values and a more authentic, genuine version of you. Tuning you more closely to your sense of purpose with more clarity about who you are and why you matter in the world. Gratitude can foster a greater sense of awe and appreciation for what life has to offer and indeed what you have to offer the world.
13. Workplace Wellbeing Boost
No mention of gratitude would be complete without mentioning the workplace. Even in stressful jobs, an attitude of gratitude can reduce feelings of negative stress, help to insulate you from negative aspects of your job and improve workplace mental health. As a result it supports better decision making, builds workplace relationships while enhances perspective, job fulfillment and overall sense of meaning.My wish for you this Thanksgiving. That you live with gratitude for peace in your heart, joy in your spirit and sense of hope for your future.