We’ve all heard the saying: “Have an attitude of gratitude!” But why bother? After all, some days we just don’t feel thankful! Besides that, can feeling grateful—or showing thankful actions toward others—cause any real beneficial impacts for anyone?
A few years ago, I heard one man’s testimony that did just that!
This man is like a modern day [biblical] Job. He had been through a long series of losses: the death of his adult-aged son, the illness and death of his wife, severe struggles of others close to him, and finally his own battle with disease.
Due to cancer that had been in his body years before, he was forced to have surgery to remove a large portion of his tongue which then led to years of rehab. First, he had to learn how to speak again—saying letters of the alphabet over and over and over, and then words, and finally full sentences. Such a long process! He also had to re-learn basic life skills such as how to drink a glass of water without having it run down his face. Things you don’t think of as an adult, until you lose a big portion of your tongue.
However, through his horrific struggles, he ended up learning a great lesson—how to be grateful for even the smallest details in life: drinking water from a cup, chewing solid food, speaking in sentences so others could understand him, swallowing without assistance.
What a lesson in humility this man’s story was to me! Also, a lesson in prayer—thanking God for the “little” things in life rather than just running through my typical list without giving much thought to them.
Speaking of prayer, the Bible is packed full of reminders for us to be thankful. Psalm 118:1 tells us to “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.” At a quick glance, I found those same words in four other passages throughout the Old and New Testaments. Obviously, God wants to teach us that gratitude is in fact good for the soul!
So practically speaking, how can showing thankfulness benefit us overall?
Amy Morin, psychotherapist and author shares several advantages to living a thankful lifestyle in her April 3, 2015 blog post for Psychology Today titled “7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude”:
- Gratitude opens the door to more relationships. Not only does saying “thank you” constitute good manners, but showing appreciation can help you win new friends, according to a 2014 study published in Emotion. The study found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship. So, 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.
- Gratitude improves physical health. Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences. 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.
- Gratitude improves psychological health.Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert Emmons, a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.
- Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. Grateful people are more likely to behave in a prosocial manner, even when others behave less kindly, according to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky. Study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.
- Grateful people sleep. Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you may sleep better and longer.
- Gratitude improves self-esteem. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased athletes’ self-esteem, an essential component to optimal performance. Other studies have shown that gratitude reduces social comparisons. Rather than becoming resentful toward people who have more money or better jobs—a major factor in reduced self-esteem—grateful people are able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments.
- Gratitude increases mental strength. For years, research has shown gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma. A 2006 study published inBehavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. Recognizing all that you have to be thankful for—even during the worst times—fosters resilience.
How can you increase your “attitude of gratitude,” not only during this holiday season but throughout the coming year?