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A Thankful Heart Can Create a Healthier Mind and Body
As we gather with family and friends this holiday season, it is not uncommon to reflect on our many blessings. Thanksgiving is a time to express gratitude for all things big and small. However, if we choose to live with a gracious heart all year long, experts say that our physical and mental health could benefit.
Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California at Davis, has been a leading researcher in a growing field of gratitude research called “positive psychology.” According to Emmons’ research, grateful people or those who perceive gratitude as a permanent trait rather than a temporary state of mind, have an advantage over the less grateful when it comes to health (3).
“Grateful people take better care of themselves and engage in more protective health behaviors like regular exercise, a healthy diet, regular physical examinations,” says Emmons (2).
The simple act of expressing thankfulness on a consistent basis has been shown to positively impact key areas in a person’s life including personal relationships, levels of connectedness, emotional well-being, and physical health. Emmons explains that gratitude magnifies positive emotions by helping us to appreciate the value in something; thus gaining more benefit from it. Second, it blocks toxic, negative emotions such as envy, resentment, and regret. These are the emotions that can destroy happiness. Third, gratitude fosters resiliency and lastly, gratitude promotes self-worth (4). Focusing on what we have versus what we lack will also help foster a more positive outlook on life. The “glass half full” perspective can also serve as a protective factor against depression.
This positive outlook on life can even improve your overall life satisfaction. Edward Diener, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois, found that a high percentage of wealthy people in Japan report low levels of life satisfaction, just as those living in poverty in India do. These findings suggest that it’s not how much you have, but how you feel about what you have that makes the difference. (3)
How can you become a more gracious person in your daily life? Here are some helpful tips on cultivating gratitude:
- Keep a gratitude journal. Emmons found that people who listed five things they are grateful for each week reported fewer health problems and greater optimism than those who didn’t.
- Reframe situations as positive. Understand that it’s not the actual situation that is upsetting; it’s how you perceive the situation. When you find yourself complaining about life’s hassles, see if you can mentally “flip the switch” to frame things differently. For example, rather than getting down about missing an opportunity, try to focus on the positive. You might now have more time to direct towards other priorities (3).
- Give at least one compliment daily, whether directly to a person or by sharing your appreciation of something.
- When you find yourself in a difficult situation ask, “What can I learn? When I look back on this, what will I be grateful for?”
- Join a cause that’s important to you. Donate money, time, or talent. By getting involved, you’ll better appreciate the organization and it will appreciate you more, too.
Jill Hamilton, Project Coordinator, The Kim Foundation
Jill Hamilton has been the Project Coordinator at The Kim Foundation since 2014. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and public relations from The University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2009. Since working at the foundation, she has become an active member of the Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition, Nebraska LOSS Advisory Committee, The Omaha Metro Hoarding Taskforce, The Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition, Nebraska State Conference Planning Committee, is Chair of the Nebraska LOSS Teams Conference Planning Committee, and serves as the Outreach Coordinator for the Metro Area LOSS Team.