The everyday world is filled with words meant to cheer and inspire us. We see them on outdoor murals, t-shirts and coffee mugs – and many of us share them daily with our friends on social media.
One message that has captured my attention lately centers on the value of gratitude in fostering good mental health. As the season of reflection and thanks approaches, I thought it was a good time to share some thoughts about gratitude with you.
THE IMPACT OF GRATITUDE IN OUR LIVES
In the classic book Simple Abundance, author Sarah Ban Breathnach reminds us that a thankful attitude can transform the way we see the world.
“You simply will not be the same person two months from now after consciously giving thanks each day for the abundance that exists in your life,” she writes. “The more you have and are grateful for, the more will be given you.”
What exactly are the gifts of gratitude? Ban Breathnach tells us that by focusing on abundance, not lack, we can become more successful in nearly every aspect of our lives. But her suggestion goes far beyond our desires for success and material comfort. Research shows that gratitude may be a key factor in our long-term mental health. Here is a summary of studies that show what gratitude can do to improve our lives and our well-being.
GRATITUDE CAN LEAD TO WISER DECISIONS
If we are content with what we have, we may be able to wait for future rewards, one study from Northeastern University suggests. This is the first step in making choices that will benefit us over the longer term.
IT CAN IMPROVE OUR CLOSEST RELATIONSHIPS
Taking time to appreciate our loved ones more can enrich our lives in countless ways. In David Richo’s groundbreaking book, How To Be An Adult In Relationships, gratitude is one of the life-changing “5 A’s” recommended for couples seeking greater closeness, intimacy and support.
GRATITUDE ENCOURAGES US TO CARE FOR OUR HEALTH
When we appreciate ourselves, we make it a priority to rest when we’re tired, seek medical care when we’re sick and find social support when we’re lonely. The long-term effects of these practices alone can lead to a better quality of life.
GRATITUDE SUPPORTS HEALTHY SLEEP
Research has proven that cultivating positive thoughts at bedtime soothes the nervous system, helping us drift off peacefully. It seems that counting our blessings may actually be better than counting sheep!
IT ENCOURAGES US TO EAT WISELY
Gratitude can replenish our willpower, says Susan Peirce Thompson, a cognitive scientist who focuses on the psychology of eating. When we’re tempted to overeat, Peirce Thompson recommends we step away from the table and make a list of what’s going well in our lives. This “gratitude break” is often all we need to clear our minds and make healthful choices.
A THANKFUL ATITUDE EASES STRESS AND DEPRESSION
One study shows that people who recounted 3 good things that happened during their day for several weeks experienced a happier mood and greater life satisfaction. While gratitude alone may not cure depression, developing the habit of appreciating what’s good about your life may help ease symptoms and contribute to your recovery.
GRATITUDE GIVES US A LASTING SENSE OF HAPPINESS
Unlike a sugary treat or an hour of retail therapy, gratitude gives us more than a burst of momentary happiness. Over time, it becomes a lens that gives us an entirely new view of ourselves and the world around us, one that can lead to greater contentment and peace of mind.
So if you’re wondering what you can do in this busy season to enrich your life, try reflecting on the good things all around you. Try keeping a gratitude journal, where you can jot down things that you are grateful for. And to find (or special-order) the good books listed here, I hope you’ll visit your hometown bookstore. Shopping locally is one of the simple pleasures that can increase your sense of gratitude for the vibrant community we share.
CULTIVATING MENTAL HEALTH AT EVERY STAGE OF LIFE
As a therapist working with adults of all ages in Oak Park, I am here to support your health and well-being. If you are struggling with stress, anxiety or the demands of caring for a loved one, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me. You can reach me at 708-990-3867 or click here to send me a confidential message.