In honor and celebration of Thanksgiving, a time to be thankful for all we have, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss the growing health benefits of practicing gratitude.
One of the things I learned to do during my leadership and cancer journey was journaling almost every day, and specifically, writing down three things I am grateful for – doing so consistently better prepared my mind for the day ahead. Sometimes it’s something simple, like thanking my husband for making the morning coffee or feeling grateful to embrace a sunny day. Sometimes it is being thankful for Laurie Johnson, who almost weekly sends me emails on various topics relevant to the social determinants of health (SDoH) in the news.
This not only improves my mood, but there is growing research and awareness that being thankful actually is linked to positive health effects; it has been researched by such healthcare organizations as New York- Presbyterian, UCLA, Harvard health, and Mayo Clinic. The most notable connection is that practicing gratitude leads to more intimate and connected relationships. In fact, the opposite of this, loneliness, was added as a social risk factor for poor health outcomes, with Z codes Z60.2 living alone (problems with), and Z60.4 social exclusion, isolation, or rejection being particularly relevant.
Those who practice gratitude are found to feel more optimistic and satisfied; they experience less frustration, envy, and regret. These individuals tend to have increased self-esteem, confidence, and greater relationships because the thankfulness of others is more likely to be easily reciprocated.
Other studies have suggested that practicing gratitude before bed encourages more restful sleep, and biologically, the outward expression of positive gestures towards others has been found to release oxytocin, lowering stress levels.
A meta-analysis study in 2021 by Malouff and Schutte found that those with more gratitude practices were significantly associated with lower depression levels.
The recommendation from all the research yields these simple habits to try to adopt:
- Take the time at night or during the morning each day to write down two or three specific details of what you are thankful for.
- When you reflexively write “thanks” at the end of your email, expand that sentence to write why you are thankful. For example: “Thank you for taking the time to read this email and reply to my request, I appreciate you!”
- Share your thanks at mealtime with others. Go around the table and share one thing you are grateful for that day. Like mashed potatoes and turkey, this practice does not only have to occur at Thanksgiving; you can do this anytime.
In closing, I would like to send you all my heartfelt appreciation for our team at Talk Ten Tuesday and the listeners each week who find our information helpful to their practice.