For many, November is a time of anticipation. We look forward to eating good food, visiting with family and friends, and cheering on our favorite football team. Often, with the coming of the Thanksgiving holiday, our thoughts turn to gratitude. Though many are familiar with personal rituals that are meant to foster gratitude–like note-writing and journaling, the origins and physical effects of this emotion we call gratitude can often go overlooked.
The Benefits of Gratitude
Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, has found some surprising effects that gratitude has on our bodies, our minds, and our relationships. His studies have shown that those who cultivate thankful habits experience many health benefits.
Changes in physical health:
- Stronger immune system
- Less bothered by aches and pains
- Lower blood pressure
- Greater motivation to exercise and take care of physical health
- Longer and more refreshing sleep
Benefits to psychological health:
- Experiencing higher levels of positive emotions
- Feeling more alert, alive, and awake
- Experiencing more joy and pleasure
- Feeling more optimism and happiness
Benefits to social health:
- Becoming more helpful, generous, and compassionate
- Becoming more willing to forgive others
- Feeling more outgoing
- Feeling less lonely and isolated
Building Your Community with Gratitude
Expressing gratitude forces us to affirm the goodness in our lives and to realize that the source of that goodness is outside of ourselves. In short, it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people. Communities–families, co-workers, neighbors–with strong gratitude practices experience tighter social bonds, more trust, more goodwill, a greater willingness to help each other, and a greater inclination to give public credit to others. This benefit is so strong that it even leads to upstream reciprocity or “pay-it-forward” behavior. When someone is on the receiving end of a generous or kind act, they are more likely to be kind and generous to someone else.
Cultivating Gratitude in Your Life
When frustrations and difficulties loom, feelings of gratitude can often be overshadowed. Here are some concrete ways you can incorporate gratitude into your life and into your community:
- Make a point to watch for people in your home, city, or workplace who are going above and beyond. When you see someone in your community perform a service that enriches your life–even in a small way–name it and thank the individual or team.
- Send a short note or email to a person who has been a source of comfort, joy, wisdom, or support recently. Describe what they have done that makes you grateful, and how they have impacted your life. Be as concrete as possible.
- Read some history that inspires. None of us is where we are without the efforts and sacrifices of many people who have paved the way. Learn about a person whose contributions have influenced your life and write down how their efforts have helped you specifically. The Kenmore Heritage Society is an organization dedicated to connecting the citizens of Kenmore with the past, as well as celebrating those who are building the future. Find interesting and inspiring stories about your community at https://kenmoreheritagesociety.com/
William Faulkner said, “Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.” As your thoughts turn to gratitude this season, consider how thanking others can help you build a healthier you as well as a more vibrant community.