Do the Right Thing

Spirit, science, and health

Gratitude is the Attitude that you Want!

Research on gratitude clearly shows both physical and mental health benefits.


As we come to the end of another year we naturally tend to pause and reflect on the year that was and the year that is to come. Often these reflections results in New Year resolutions to eat better, exercise more, achieve more, be nicer, and engage in many other self improvement efforts.

In my clinical practice I see many patients who, as they reflect upon the year and their current place in life, get pretty down on themselves for not achieving more or not having the kind of life and lifestyle that they had hoped and dreamed for. Some are so depressed and even suicidal.


For example, one patient that I saw recently is very depressed. He gets very down on himself feeling that he never achieved what he wished he could have achieved and for not having the kind of marriage he hoped for. Since he is entering his elderly years and coming close to retirement he has little hope that life will significantly change for the better. As he reflects upon his life at the end of the year he sees the glass as half empty rather than half full. 

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Another patient feels the same way. he also reflects on his life as we come to the end of 2012 and feels despondent. He also sees the glass as half empty not noticing all of the positive things in his life. 

One of many strategies to improve mood and perspective this time of year (and throughout the year for that matter) is to focus on the half full rather than half empty glass. Looking for the up side and being grateful for what you have is so important for both mental and physical health. This is not to say that we should be in denial or maintain a Pollyanna way of thinking about our lives but rather to be sure that we focus on what we are grateful for each and every day.  And yes, I really do mean each and every day. 

My patients and I are working on what they are grateful for and reflecting how, for example, they have both touched so many people in very positive ways during their lives. Asking them to list the things that they are grateful for has made a big difference in their mood and perspective.  Listing those who they have helped and cared for has been helpful too. 

Research on gratitude clearly has found that maintaining a more grateful perspective has both mental and physical health benefits (if interested in this area of research please be sure to google the work of Bob Emmons at UC Davis and Mike McCullough at the Univ of Miami for great examples of top notch research in this area).

One important intervention strategy that anyone can do is to spend just a few minutes each day reflecting on your day and list at least a few things that you are grateful for that happened or didn’t happen. This list could include very small items (e.g., a smile from a friend or stranger, a sunny day) or very big things as well (e.g., avoiding a potential car crash, a promotion at work). really, just spend even only a minute every day doing this exercise. It will likely make a difference for you. 

So, as we come to the end of 2012 and turn to 2013 spend just a few moments each day to list out what you are grateful for. See what it does for your mood and perspective over time. I bet it will help you. 

So, what do you think? 

Thomas Plante, PhD, ABPP, is the Augustin Cardinal Bea, SJ University Professor at Santa Clara University and Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University.

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