What The Wild Things Are

Understandings of Self, Awareness, and Mental Health in an Ever-Changing World

Gratitude and Giving Thanks

Being thankful is not just part of a holiday, it's good for your mental health.

In honor of the Thanksgiving holiday, I am re-posting an article from two years ago on gratitude - it is as relevant today as it was then. Enjoy your holiday!

 

It is our human nature to dwell on the negative. This tendency is called the “negativity bias,” or the propensity to focus on problems, annoyances, and injustices in our lives rather than focusing on being grateful for the events or people in our lives that are working and we feel good about.

Dismiss positive thinking as Pollyanna, New Age, or even as outdated ancient or religious thinking if you like, but there are increasing indications that feeling grateful can have a powerfully positive effect on our lives, health, and psychological and emotional well-being. Research by Jeffrey J. Froh, an assistant professor of psychology at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., has found that adults who feel grateful are more optimistic, report more social satisfaction, experience less envy, less depression and fewer physical complaints. They also sleep better and get more exercise. Kids who experience more gratitude do better in school, set higher goals for themselves, derive more satisfaction from life, friends, family, and school and are generally less materialistic and have more desire to give back.

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Giving Thanks

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Gratitude can also have a social benefit. In other research by Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California-Davis and a pioneer in gratitude research, people who were assigned the task of making a daily gratitude list were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another, relative to those who focused on the hassles of life or comparing themselves to others.

Convinced? If so, then the next question is: how do we change from our negative habits to that of feeling more regular gratitude? Here is a starter list from Dr. Froh:

1. Keep a gratitude journal – document daily what you feel grateful about.
2. Get a gratitude buddy and talk about what you are grateful for with your buddy. Your buddy can help you make sure you acknowledge where your joy comes from (the difference between bragging and feeling grateful).
3. Pay a gratitude visit to someone who has helped you in the past or write them a letter.
4. Pause mindfully during the day to when something happens that you feel grateful about; make a mental note.
5. Watch your language even when talking to yourself – be mindful of when you are focusing on the negative.
6. Savor the good times with family and friends. Photos, drawings, written accounts and verbally acknowledging and appreciating people and events keeps you focused on the things you feel grateful for.

There will be a need for some experimentation as to what works for you (and your family). Some may find that they enjoy reviewing daily gratitude at the dinner table while others can leave a log book in the living room that can be added to on a regular basis. Others find that meditation can give them an experience of this bliss. Whatever way you find, it may feel strange, artificial, or uncomfortable at first – this is to be expected because of our natural tendency is to be negative. But after some time, our habits will change… and perhaps our life will follow. As we approach the calendar change and New Year’s Resolutions it is certainly something to think about and consider, for adult and child alike.

Enjoy your life and be happy. Being happy is of the utmost importance. Success in anything is through happiness. More support of nature comes from being happy. Under all circumstances be happy, even if you have to force it a bit to change some long standing habits. Just think of any negativity that comes to you as a raindrop falling into the ocean of your bliss. You may not always have an ocean of bliss, but think that way anyway and it will help it come. Doubting is not blissful and does not create happiness. Be happy, healthy, and let all that love flow through your heart.
-- Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Samantha Smithstein, Psy.D., is a clinical and forensic psychologist and co-founder of the Pathways Institute for Impulse Control in San Francisco.

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