November 24, 2011 | 3
Today is Thanksgiving – a day to relax, take a step back, and honestly express gratitude.
Gratitude. By definition, it is the state of being grateful or thankful. It is universally seen as a positive human attribute. You can hear how highly gratitude is thought of over and over again in sayings from all over the world:
A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues. -Roman saying
The truly rich are those who enjoy what they have. – Yiddish proverb
If you’re not thankful then you’re a wizard. – African Proverb
Perhaps the merits of gratitude have been parised for centuries in so many cultures for good reason. Studies have shown that expressing gratitude is connected to a wide variety of positive outcomes.
Gratitude may help us deal with stress, for example. Over the past decade, evidence has been mounting to show that gratitude mitigates the negative consequences of traumatic events. Studies have found that soldiers who score higher on dispositional gratitude are less likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Similarly, another study found an inverse correlation between gratitude and PTSD symptom levels in college women who experienced trauma.
Of course, the benefits of gratitude extend far beyond serious traumatic events. Simply expressing gratitude has positive effects on our daily lives. In one study, Kent State researchers had students write one letter every two weeks with the simple ground rules that it had to be positively expressive, require some insight and reflection, be nontrivial and contain a high level of appreciation or gratitude. After each letter, students completed a survey to gauge their moods, satisfaction with life and feelings of gratitude and happiness – all of which increased after each letter – the more they wrote, the happier they were.
Similar results have been found in a number of other studies. Middle school students that counted their blessings expressed enhanced self-reported gratitude, optimism, life satisfaction, and decreased negative feelings. In adults, the keeping of gratitude journals led to overall happier thoughts. Not only were the journal keepers in a better mood, they also were more likely to to report having helped someone with a personal problem or offered emotional support to another, suggesting that the positive affects of gratitude expand outward.
Given the benefits of expressing thanks, I decided to do so myself. Yesterday, I sat on my couch with a pad of paper and my favorite purple sharpie pen and wrote out all the little things in my life that I am thankful for. It turned out to be quite a long list – about 8 pages long, actually. So rather than bore you with the whole thing, I’ve included a few of my favorite highlights:
Enjoy your day of thanks, and don’t forget to express to the people you love just how thankful you are to have them. Happy Thanksgiving!
Image c/o holidays.kaboose.com