Can Gratitude Save You?

Here in the United States, Thanksgiving is just a couple days away. While the origins of the holiday aren’t without controversy, President George Washington’s first Thanksgiving proclamation was about giving thanks to God. I was raised to celebrate this day as a time to give thanks for the good things in my life. And, I dare say, a good number of us need a designated day to remind us to focus on such things.

I’m a glass three-quarters full kind of person, even though I’ve experienced life-altering events and gone through some dark times, just like most of us have. I’ve been crushed by the loss of loved ones, had relationships threatened, and sometimes I’ve felt as if there’s no point.

During these times, gratitude has come to the rescue. I change my outlook by changing my perspective. Rather than focus on how much I miss someone who is gone, I choose to celebrate the memories I was lucky enough to make with that person. Rather than allow a relationship to fizzle, I choose to make spending together a priority. And rather than let myself think that I don’t matter, I choose to think about even one person who depends on me.

So, can gratitude save you? It’s most definitely not an overnight fix. However, Psychology Today explains that gratitude brings physical and psychological health benefits over time, including people who live with mental health issues. It’s been shown that practicing gratitude (and it does take practice) can increase happiness and decrease negative emotions such as resentment and jealousy. Gratitude shifts your thinking from inner turmoil to the positive people, places, and things around you.

In her article “The Gifts We Give Ourselves,” Diane McIntosh, MD,  shares the three gifts she gives to herself that help her take care of her own mental health, and gratitude is one of them. “As positive thoughts slowly creep back,” she says, “finding gratitude in small things (e.g., a bird singing outside the window, sunshine peeking through the clouds, taking a shower) can become a source of strength and recovery.”

Getting back to that Psychology Today article, it explains that the beneficial impact of gratitude is exponential: “Brain scans done on people assigned a task that stimulates expression of gratitude show lasting changes in the prefrontal cortex that heighten sensitivity to future experiences of gratitude.” In other words, forced gratitude now can often lead to spontaneous gratitude later.

Expressing gratitude on a daily basis doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are a few things that come to mind:

  • Tell someone you love them. Heck, if they’re standing in front of you, give them a hug. If you’re the one who needs to hear I love you today, go stand in front of a mirror, look yourself in the eye, and say it until it really sinks in.
  • Know that there are many forms of wealth. If you’ve just had a financial setback, think about all the other forms of plenty in your life. Your health, your loved ones, each breath you’re granted on any given day
  • Remind yourself that you can only do one thing at a time. When your mind is buzzing with chaos, pause. Write everything down. Think about how wonderful it is to have such a full life. Decide what deserves your attention right now. Chances are good that most of the things on your list don’t deserve your attention—and that’s okay.

Whether you believe that gratitude can save you or not, it certainly feels better to consider the good in your life, however briefly. With any luck, the more you do it, the easier it will become.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.

Images from iStock/AaronAmat (main), fizkes (post). 

Paula Widish

Paula Widish, author of Trophia: Simple Steps to Everyday Self-Health, is a freelance writer and self-healther. She loves nothing more than sharing tidbits of information she discovers with others. (Actually, she loves her family more than that—and probably bacon too.) Paula has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Public Relations and is a Certified Professional Life Coach through International Coach Academy.

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