Gratitude and Its Lasting Impacts

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In the past couple of years, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of talking about and improving our mental health. Research on the topic has also progressed, focusing on finding ways for people to improve their mental health and overall wellbeing. One strategy that has been found to provide a lot of great benefits is practicing gratitude. It can be so easy to get swept up in the negative aspects of life and forget about the good things; however, practicing gratitude is one way to focus more on those positives and less on any negative feelings you have. 

Gratitude is defined simply as “the quality of being thankful.” Psychologist and world expert on gratitude, Robert Emmons, also defines it as “the ability to recognize the goodness in your life.” It is a powerful feeling and emotion that is evoked when something positive happens in your life that makes you feel thankful or appreciative.

Practicing gratitude is all about observing those positive moments in life that occur on a daily basis and recognizing how they make you feel. By putting the focus on the good rather than the bad, we can push away a lot of the negative emotions or thoughts that we feel, the ones that tend to make us feel sad or depressed, and allow ourselves to focus on what makes us happy. It can also help calm your fears and anxieties and maintain a positive outlook. 

Practicing gratitude isn’t hard; it simply requires you to be more observant of the things in your life that make an impact. These moments can be big or small, ranging from the bursts of happiness you feel after seeing a cute dog on campus or talking to friends in class, to the gratefulness you feel after recovering from a serious illness or injury. Recognizing these moments and building gratitude into your life just takes practice; as you bring your attention to more and more things that you feel grateful for, the more you’ll identify other things to be grateful for. 

One of the great things about gratitude is that there are many different ways to do it, so you’re bound to find one that works for you! Gratitude can take the form of daily journaling, meditation, evening prayers or even volunteering. You can also practice gratitude by doing small things on a day-to-day basis such as making an extra effort to be kind to someone, smiling more often, sharing gratitude posts on social media or just calling your mom and dad. What’s nice about gratitude is that it’s an extremely personal strategy to improve mental health; you can do as much or as little as you want with it and still reap its benefits. 

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Most research published about gratitude finds a positive association between being grateful and an individual’s overall well-being. Many studies over the last few years have found that people who purposely make an effort to count their blessings tend to feel happier and less depressed. This is because the practice of being grateful causes our brains to release positive neurotransmitters such as serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine. It also lessens the presence of cortisol, a stress hormone. When this occurs, it can help with things such as depression and anxiety and make people feel happier overall.

Gratitude can provide individuals with additional benefits such as better sleep, improved self-esteem, increased optimism and improved relationships. It can also lead to better physical and psychological health. Grateful people tend to experience fewer aches and pains. Also they are more likely to take care of themselves through exercise and regular check-ups. In terms of psychological health, practicing gratitude can reduce tons of negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, anger or envy. A study from the University of Kentucky also found that grateful people tend to be more empathetic to people and less aggressive. 

Photo from Forbes.com

When people feel grateful, they tend to feel happier overall. Practicing gratitude can help people refocus on what’s important in their lives and all of the things they have rather than the things they don’t.

Although practicing gratitude can feel a bit forced at times, as you continue to do it, you’ll see just how many good things happen in your day, and it will become easier and easier. Adding this small, easy step to your day can lead to some life changing benefits.

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