This is the season where there is an increased focus on being thankful. While this is a great reminder to look for the good in life, it is something you really need year around. It isn’t just good for your positive outlook, it impacts many areas in your life.
In an article by Robert Emmons -2010, he shares that keeping a gratitude journal for just three weeks had huge impacts some of which were unexpected. That study included over 1,000 people. Some of what was reported included the following.
People that they had higher levels of positive emotions such as joy and pleasure. They became more aware and alert. There were many reports of more optimism and happiness with life overall.
A second area of impact was to an individual’s social life. They reported more generosity, compassionate responses and being more forgiving. One of those that jumped out at me the most is feeling less isolated and alone. A lot of people don’t understand that gratitude is a social emotion. A large majority of people need to know they are supported by others and be affirmed by others. Knowing that we are of value to others can be uplifting.
Gratitude adds to this by helping us focus on the fact that there are still good things in the world and we can be one of them.
True gratitude takes a bit of humility in recognizing that there are more than our own actions. We can identify that there are many big and small gifts in the world that contribute good into our lives.
Gratitude needs to be identified more than in November because positive emotions can wear off quickly. We are creatures of novelty, we like to look at and admire the ‘new’. That is why the excitement of a new car wears off.
One of the reasons this is important is that gratitude blocks toxic and negative emotions. In a 2008 study by psychologist Alex Wood in the Journal of Research in Personality, he identified that gratitude reduces the duration of episodic depression. If you think about that, you can’t focus on being sad and grateful at the same time. He also identified that the higher a person’s gratitude became the lower resentment and envy fell. Increasing gratitude can aid recovering from trauma, adversity and suffering.
Gratitude can also increase one’s sense of self-worth. You begin to be able to identify that you are part of something larger than yourself. You can also notice positive relationships where people have helped you get where you are today. Once a person can see these contributions and that other people value you the more it will change the way they see themselves.
There are challenges to learning to be grateful. One of the things some individuals run up again is a tendency to take the credit for everything good in our lives and we are blind to those that helped us get there. Yet, when something bad happens they point the finger and don’t admit to any participation that led them there. I am not talking about situations where a person has been victimized.
Being grateful can also challenge a person’s sense of control. It can be hard for individuals to accept that many things in life are what they are, and we can’t control everything. Being grateful means admitting this and learning to just be grateful for what we have.
The final challenge that being grateful brings is accepting that the world is not fair. Some people deserve much more in life and some people have way more than they deserve. If you feel you deserve everything or that you are entitled to everything then being grateful for anything is much harder.
Over this season of holidays, take a deep look at life and make a list of everything you are grateful for. When you acknowledge that life is not fair, you will be able to see things you could be going without. Write them down and read them now and then. If you are suffering from depression, I encourage you to start a gratitude journal and write down everything you are grateful for in that day.
“What if I can’t think of anything?” Get simple. I am grateful my coffee was hot or that I had electricity for a hot shower. There are people that don’t have those things. We take so much for granted in our lives until they are gone.
Have a great month no matter where you live. Make that gratitude list and being to feel better about where you are in life, even if it is just one day at a time.