By Kathy Ferguson, RN, Parish Nurse
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Psalms 107:1
It’s November and a season that is associated with being grateful and giving thanks—after all, Thanksgiving is on November 23. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives or acknowledging the goodness in their lives.
Research has shown that gratitude can benefit health and wellness in the following ways:
- Gratitude improves physical health. Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and they report feeling healthier than other people. Grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health. (Personality and Individual Differences, 2012)
- Gratitude improves psychological health. According to Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher, gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.
- Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. A 2012 study by the University of Kentucky found grateful individuals experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased need to seek revenge when others behaved in an unkind manner.
- Grateful people sleep better. Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep. Spending a few minutes jotting down some grateful thoughts before bed, may help you sleep better and longer. (Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 2011)
- Gratitude increases mental strength. Gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a role in overcoming trauma. Recognizing all you have to be thankful for – even during the worst times of your life – fosters resilience.
According to a 2011 article published in the Harvard Mental Health Newsletter, here are some ways to practice gratitude on a regular basis.
- Write a thank-you note. Take the time to write a thank-you letter expressing your appreciation to a person for their impact on your life. Of course, you can send an e-mail, but the time and personal touch with a letter has a greater effect. You can even write one to yourself!
- Thank someone mentally. If you don’t have time to write a letter, it may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down thoughts about the gifts you’ve received each day.
- Count your blessings. You may not be the journaling type. Instead, pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week.
- Pray. When I pray before going to sleep, I thank the Lord for His guidance and care in my life and then recognize individuals for whom I am thankful.
If you are anything like me, there have been times in your life that it didn’t seem like there was anything to be thankful for. During these times—when I was ready to look at giving thanks—I did find that there was always something for which to be grateful. At first I identified things like having a roof over my head, food to eat, or a warm bed to sleep in. I realized that my life wasn’t quite as awful as I thought (even though it still wasn’t too great at that time). As time went on I was able to go a little deeper and identify things that weren’t so superficial, such as my family, my freedoms, nature, and other things. Finding things for which to be grateful really did lighten the darkness and burden I was carrying.
I encourage you, in this season all about thankfulness, to practice an attitude of gratitude. But, why stop there? Express your gratitude throughout the year! After all, it is good for your health and wellness.