Promoting Hope, Preventing Suicide

Research and advice on preventing teen and adult suicide

Can Giving Thanks Make Us Feel Better?

Gratitude practice and well-being

I'm writing this post surrounded by laundry and baby toys, crammed into the only available spot on my (stained) couch, having spent the last three days taking care of a sick baby while fighting my third illness in a month.

And I'm quite happy.

Earlier today, while I was picking the thousandth wet Cheerio out of my carpet and "organizing" the toys, I laughed thinking about who has brought these wet Cheerios and toys into my home. Sentimentality and joy - that's what I felt when I realized that I am happier now, in my mess, than I was a year ago. A year ago, I was waiting (on my lovely, clean couch) to meet my baby. Since he arrived, with his associated mess, I've had more moments of gratitude than I could have ever imagined.

I don't mean to whitewash my life, saying "I'm so happy!" with Pollyana-ish ease. What I mean to say is that shifting perspective - looking for something to be grateful for amidst a life of ordinary or sometimes painful moments - may lead to a greater sense of happiness.

At the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, researchers are looking at how gratitude, among other practices including altruism and mindfulness, could impact well-being.

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The Center is producing information and resources to help people integrate into their lives what science says works to promote happiness. The Six Habits of Happiness Worth Cultivating is one such resource.

Giving thanks is one of the six habits. In addition to greater happiness, research is showing that gratitude can affect physical well-being and decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Gratitude practice isn't meant to erase negative emotions or responses, or to cover up realities that are upsetting, even traumatic.

It isn't a cure, but one tool in the proverbial toolkit. For some people experiencing depression, it might make enough of a difference. For others, it won't replace medication or therapy.

But would you take time to consider the good if there was a chance it could make the bad feel better?

Throughout the month of November, I've watched friends post Facebook status messages chronicling their moments of gratitude. I've wondered if this type of gratitude practice could be contagious. I've thought about if writing down what you're thankful for helps you realize how many things you are thankful for. I've also wondered if public thank you's could inspire jealously or sadness.

As I've read what my friends are grateful for, I've also read their regular status updates: the problems they face juggling work and home responsibilities, children's illnesses, and what's-for-dinner pictures.

I've admired how they are practicing the act of looking for something to be thankful for, working to make it a part of each day - sometimes going back and filling in missed days - even as life continues with it's ordinary, even boring moments and challenges to feelings of gratitude.

Are you involved in gratitude practice? Have you tried it and found it works - or doesn't work - for you?

 

Elana Premack Sandler, L.C.S.W., M.P.H., is a public health social worker specializing in violence and injury prevention and adolescent health promotion.

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