The importance of gratitude
“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
As we approach the holiday season and are reminded of all of the joys and stressful times in our lives, it is helpful for our mental health to show gratitude. Instead of focusing on the things we don’t have or the challenges in our lives, it is important to make gratitude a part of our regular health routine. Many studies have shown that displaying gratitude helps us become healthier, happier and more successful.
What is gratitude?
It’s simple. Gratitude means being thankful. It means showing appreciation for and returning kindness. It’s a personality trait, a mood, and an emotion. When we are grateful, we are more likely to feel good about ourselves. It’s a way to remind ourselves of the things that make us happy.
Psychologists Dr. Robert A. Emmons and Dr. Michael E. McCullough did a study on gratitude, in which they asked participants in three groups to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics. The first group wrote about things they were grateful for; the second group wrote about things that irritated them; the third wrote about events that had affected them, either in a positive or a negative way. The group that wrote about gratitude was more optimistic, exercised more, and visited their doctor less than those who focused on sources of aggravation.1
So, how do we practice gratitude?
Write a thank you note
Some people might think that a simple hand-written thank-you note might not be that effective, but a study published in Psychological Science reveals otherwise. One hundred participants wrote letters of gratitude to someone whom they were thankful for, such as a friend or loved one. The letters took less than five minutes to write, and participants were then asked to rate how surprised, happy, and awkward they predicted the participant would feel.
The participants who wrote the notes overestimated how awkward recipients would feel and how insincere the notes would seem, and they greatly underestimated the positive effects they would have, typically guessing the notes would evoke a 3 out of 5.
The recipients were asked to assess how the letter actually made them feel. After receiving the notes, many rated their happiness at 4 out of 5.2
Remember that time your co-worker helped you finish that brief when you had a family emergency, or when your cousin found an old photo of the two of you and took the time to mail it to you? Write them a thank-you note. You both will benefit!
Say thank you
When you say thank you, you instantly feel better about yourself because you are showing good manners and respect, something your parents probably taught you when you were a toddler. When you feel good about yourself, you are more positive, and the person you thanked feels higher levels of self-worth and is more likely to help others in the future. It’s a win-win!
Research shows that managers who thank their employees find that those employees feel motivated to work harder. One study randomly divided university fundraisers into two groups, where one group made phone calls to raise money in the same way they always had. The second group received a talk from the supervisor, who told them she was grateful for their efforts. The employees who heard the supervisor’s message of gratitude made 50% more fund-raising calls than those who did not.3
Don’t forget to thank your partner. Couples who express gratitude toward one another are more intimate and trustworthy and are more likely to feel as if their needs are being met.
Saying a mental thank you works as well. Maybe a person did something nice for you, but you don’t know his or her name. A person who let you over in a traffic jam, a person who let you skip ahead in line, a person who helped you soothe your crying child at the grocery store, a person who noticed you dropped a $20 bill and gave it back to you. Thinking and being grateful for the kind gestures that strangers have done for you can make you feel happier.
Write it down
Keep a gratitude journal. This helps you focus on what you already have, not what you lack. Make a goal to write in your journal daily, weekly, or whatever works for you. Think about your day, your past, your future and what you are thankful for, and write it down. It doesn’t have to be grandiose. It can be as simple as “I am thankful that I have a job that I love” or “I’m thankful that I have a roof over my head.” When you are feeling stressed or upset, take a look at your journal and remember all of the amazing things in your life.
Having trouble thinking of something to be grateful for? We tend to focus on the negative aspects in the world, but try to start thinking of the positive. One way is to be thankful for yourself. Think about your job as a lawyer. Your job is to solve other people’s problems. You help people get their homes back, you help them resolve disputes, get child support, find justice, among many other things. That in itself is something to be thankful for.
If you are unhappy, depressed, suffering from substance abuse, burnout, or stress, and you believe it is affecting your life, the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program can provide CONFIDENTIAL help. For more information, go to ohiolap.org or call (800) 348-4343 or (614) 586-0621.
1 “Giving thanks can make you happier,” Harvard Health Publishing, https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier