The Mental Health Benefits of Giving Thanks
The month of November is a time when many of us gather with our family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. You may not have given this much thought, but being thankful actually has many mental health benefits. Studies have shown that people who regularly express gratitude tend to have lower rates of stress and depression and live overall happier lives.
Practicing and expressing gratitude has a remarkable effect on your mind, body and spirit. Expressing gratitude improves overall psychological health by reducing toxic negative emotions and increasing endorphins (feel good chemicals) in your brain.
Expressing gratitude can:
- Improve your overall mood and encourage an optimistic outlook. Research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.
- Enrich social relationships and build social supports. Gratitude opens the door to more relationships. Not only does saying “thank you” constitute good manners, but also showing appreciation can help you win new friends. Therefore, whether you thank a stranger for holding the door or send a thank-you note to that colleague who helped you with a project, acknowledging other people’s contributions can lead to new opportunities.
- Enhance empathy and reduce aggression. Grateful people are more likely to behave in a prosocial manner, even when others behave less kindly. Grateful people are less likely to retaliate against others and experience more sensitivity and empathy toward other people. It also causes a decreased desire to seek revenge.
- Improve sleep. Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you may sleep better and longer.
- Improve physical health. Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than others. Not surprisingly, grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health. They exercise more often and are more likely to attend regular check-ups, which is likely to contribute to further longevity.
- Give hope. Research shows that focusing on the positive can boost our mood more than we expect, which in turn produces hope for the future.
- Allow us to ground ourselves. Remembering what is going well in my life and being grateful for the good things in my life reminds me there is still good in a world full of chaos and struggles.
- Encourage moral behavior. Gratitude motivates the grateful person to behave socially positively toward the benefactor and other people.
- Increase mental strength. For years, research has shown gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma. Recognizing all that you have to be thankful for—even during the worst times—fosters resilience.
Ways you can cultivate gratitude:
- Express your gratitude. Thank or compliment someone. Let them know you think they did something well or that you like something about them. Speak the words!
- Write a thank you note. Showing appreciation nurtures relationships and helps to foster a healthy sense of self-esteem for both the sender and receiver.
- Write a letter, email or post of gratitude. Why not take the time to brainstorm the things you are grateful for and then put pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard and express it.
- Give a gift of gratitude. A gratitude gift might be something of material value but it does not need to be. A thoughtful and personal show of gratitude can be worth its weight in gold.
- Be a support system.
- Encourage others.
- Include others.
- Visit others. There is nothing like a face-to-face visit to express your gratitude. The gesture of going out of your way to tell someone how much you appreciate them is enough for everyone to feel the benefits.
- Be there.
- Keep a blessing journal. Reflect on your blessings. Make a habit of recognizing blessings and writing them in your blessing journal at the end of every day.
- Demonstrate gratitude. Make eye contact, practice being patient, a better listener, and kind.
- Be gracious when challenged.
- Share in other’s joy.
- Preform random acts of kindness. Pay it forward.
- Be respectful and treat others with the level of courtesy you would like to receive.
The above are just suggestions of how you may get started in showing gratitude in your life. To find your best method, really think about what feels right and what feels natural or meaningful to you. What works for some people may not work for others. For some, expressing gratitude does not come easily, even to those people who mean the most to us. Whether it’s a friend, teacher, or parent, the positive impact a little bit of gratitude can have is immense for both parties. It is often the simplest of gestures that speak volumes in showing your gratitude. We all have people in our lives who inspire us and generally just make life better by being in it.
The good thing is that gratitude is a skill that can easily be learned by anyone. Simply starting with little gestures of kindness can lead to more impactful ways to express gratitude. People who are grateful feel better about themselves and their lives and have higher levels of happiness. In the end, the more gratitude we display the more grateful we are likely to be.
Pastor Ron Shank is the director of pastoral care for Brook Lane. He provides spiritual counseling for patients in our hospital as well as residents of our Stone Bridge program, students at Laurel Hall School, Brook Lane staff, and others who seek spiritual guidance. Pastor Ron is Brook Lane’s spiritual liaison to the community, sharing our guiding principles drawn from the ministry of Jesus Christ. He is the author of numerous articles on faith and mental health and provides community outreach by preaching to local congregations to educate them on issues of mental health. Pastor Ron leads Sunday morning services in Brook Lane’s Chapel and conducts Bible studies for Brook Lane students, staff and patients. Pastor Ron is a graduate of Liberty Baptist College, with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Pastoral Counseling.