Many studies over the past decade have found that people who consciously count their blessings tend to be happier and less depressed. In a research study involving nearly 300 adults, mostly college students who were seeking mental health counselling at a university, results indicated that gratitude writing can be beneficial not just for healthy, well-adjusted individuals but also for those who struggle with mental health concerns. In fact, it seems practicing gratitude on top of receiving psychological counseling carries greater benefits than counseling alone, even when that gratitude practice is brief.
Most of the studies published on this topic support an association between gratitude and an individual's well-being. Other studies have looked at how gratitude can improve relationships. For example, a study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partners felt not only more positive toward the other persons but also more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationships.
The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness (depending on the context). In some ways, gratitude encompasses all of these meanings. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. While the holiday of Thanksgiving emphasizes the gift of gratitude, it is important to practice some elements of gratitude every day.
The 12-step recovery program of Alcoholics Anonymous considers the development of daily gratitude essential for emotional and spiritual growth. “I have come to believe that hard times are not just meaningless suffering and that something good might turn up at any moment. That’s a big change for someone who used to come to in the morning feeling sentenced to another day of life. When I wake up today, there are lots of possibilities. I can hardly wait to see what’s going to happen next.” (Anonymous)
Gratitude can impact emotions by helping people to feel better, more relaxed, less envious, and more resilient. It increases our ability to be social, kinder, and more compassionate and to develop deeper relationships. It affects our personalities — increasing self-esteem making us more optimistic, more spiritual, less self-centered, and less materialistic. It improves sleep, increases energy, and helps us live longer, and we are ill less often. As if that is not enough in the way of benefits, it can help us at work; we can become better managers by improving our networking and decision-making skills and increase our productivity and goal achievement.
A five-minute-a-week gratitude journal is a great place to start. The actual gratitude produced during those five minutes is small, but the emotions of gratitude felt during those five minutes are enough to trigger a grateful mood. It takes several months of continuous practice for the largest benefits to appear. This is for two reasons: cultivating gratitude is a skill, and it becomes a personality trait. “Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” (Zig Ziglar)