Gratitude Bolsters Happiness and Well-being
There is a plethora of research indicating that the experience of gratitude supports individual well-being in addition to more long-lasting benefits. It can increase feelings of competence and happiness, perceived sense of connectedness to others, and the likelihood that others will act similarly in their interactions.
Thanksgiving is a holiday when Americans take some time to recognize the things they are grateful for. This society-wide event encourages us to recognize our positive feelings about our lives. The fact that most Americans are doing so at the same time enhances the experience for all of us. It’s definitely my favorite holiday!
Despite the chaos and uncertainty of 2020, there are things that we can appreciate about this year. Letting go of the negative long enough to recognize the positive can really be a challenge. Researchers believe that being more positive can be taught and feeling grateful is one of the tools.
3 Ways to Build Gratitude
1. Maximizing your experience of gratitude is a goal. Take 20 – 30 seconds to sink into the feeling of appreciation, warmth, and well-being. Marc Lewis and others have found that the more emotionally stimulating an event is and the longer we can experience the feeling and hold it in awareness, the greater impact it has on the brain. “Neurons that fire and thus wire together,” create stronger memory traces so we can appreciate that experience longer.
Repeated efforts to truly experience the feeling of gratitude cause subtle shifts in the brain that result in greater optimism, a more positive outlook, and perhaps even added joy. With this kind of result, what’s not to love!
2. Taking the time to express gratitude is an easy concept that many of us overlook. People have a tendency to expect good things, but notice the problems. Evolutionary psychologists think focusing on the negative was a survival mechanism for our ancestors. Failure to notice and resolve problems in those days could result in death. There’s a saying that goes “we are what we focus on” indicating that our thoughts can drive our experience. Taking the time to acknowledge a kind or helpful gesture is one way to express our appreciation.
A genuine expression of gratitude has a positive impact on both the giver and the recipient. The recipient feels capable and appreciated, while the giver is creating more positivity in the relationship and an increased sense of personal well-being for each person. Both are winners. Few actions have this great a payoff.
3. Sharing gratitude can be a challenge for many of us as it requires that we step out of our comfort zone. But, it’s a great opportunity to express your feelings and to help others feel more positively too. Instead of expressing your appreciation to someone, sharing gratitude means telling others about your feelings of thankfulness. This can be about anything; even small things can generate feelings of pleasure.
An example might be, “I enjoy living in the woods with a little space around me so we can be outside. Spending time in nature reminds me of how beautiful the Earth really is. It helps me feel grounded and recognize that my problems aren’t as big as I sometimes think they are.”
Sharing gratitude enables you to express your positive emotions and encourages others to give attention to their own.
Shifting Towards the Positive
Please take note, nobody is saying don’t feel the negative feelings you may have. In fact, we may even have more than usual this year. Even in dire situations, people can experience positive feelings alongside the negative ones and it’s the positive feelings that help us cope.
Enjoy Thanksgiving this year! We need to notice the wonderful parts of our life that we are actually thankful for. The challenges of 2020 have taken the wind out of our sails. Our own experience of gratitude this season may be just what we need to encourage the fresh breezes of life to start to blow again.
Research shows that remembering to notice and appreciate the positive people and things in our lives enhances our experience of life in ways that reverberate for weeks. Why should we reserve this occurrence to only one time per year?
Feelings of gratitude can have a more dominant role in our lives in every season. Remember even after Thanksgiving that what we focus on colors our experience. We would all benefit from spreading gratitude to others throughout the year. So, see if you can add a gratitude habit to your 2021.
The Psychology of Giving Thanks