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Gratitude is not just about happiness and positivity, and it does not require ignoring or suppressing negative emotions.

Published Nov 7th, 2023

By Kim Crawford Meeks
Spiritual Care Manager

“We would worry less if we praised more. Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction,” said Harry A. Ironside.

An attitude of gratitude can help with coping, hope, and overall well-being. Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have done in-depth research on gratitude.

In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week focusing on particular topics. One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and a third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative).

After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of frustration.

Gratitude is not just about happiness and positivity, and it certainly does not require ignoring or suppressing negative emotions. In the book "The Gratitude Project: How the Science of Thankfulness Can Rewire Our Brains for Resilience, Optimism, and the Greater Good," Emmons writes that “practicing gratitude magnifies positive feelings more than it reduces negative feelings.”

Gratitude may help to see the bigger picture and to maintain hope when facing challenge and adversity. Research in recent years has shown that an attitude of gratitude in those studied had fewer common health complaints and less trouble sleeping.

“Physiological changes associated with gratitude are typically a reduction in blood pressure and increase in vagal tone, which is taken as an index of increased parasympathetic influence on the peripheral nervous system,” says Dr. Emiliana Simon-Thomas, science director at the Greater Good Science Center. “The parasympathetic nervous system (the part of the nervous system that allows our body to 'rest and digest') can help conserve energy by slowing the heart rate, stimulating digestion, and contributing to overall relaxation.”

Various options of expressing gratitude are available. One method of gratitude is to be more appreciative of our loved ones. We can start by saying “thank you” to small but meaningful gestures we notice, such as loved ones checking how our day went, offering to do something for us, etc. Appreciation helps to build a stronger relationship with the people we care about.

Writing a letter of gratitude or even a thank-you note to at least one person a week helps significantly improve mental health. This has been proven by a study that involved some 300 adults, all of whom were going through mental health counseling, according to a recent study. Writing gratitude letters or notes for the people who have become your source of inspiration has also shown to increase levels of happiness and gratefulness.

Keeping a journal is another method of expressing gratitude. Several studies have shown that writing or drawing the details of positive experiences you had throughout the day, week or month can help condition your brain to become more appreciative of the things you have to be grateful for. Below are "30 Days of Gratitude Journal Prompts" to start your own record of heartfelt thanks in counting your blessings.

  • I am thankful for these people and situations that made me smile today.
  • I am thankful for my gifts.
  • I am thankful for the following people and their influence on my life.
  • I am thankful for the things that made me laugh today.
  • This is something different today than one year ago, which I am thankful for now.
  • I am thankful for this item that I wear.
  • I am thankful for this beautiful thing I saw today.
  • I am thankful for the following freedoms.
  • I am thankful for the following challenges.
  • I am thankful for the following items in nature.
  • I am thankful for this thing about my body.
  • I am thankful that this happened today.
  • I am thankful for this coworker or neighbor today.
  • I am thankful for this person’s kindness.
  • I am thankful for this about where I live.
  • I am thankful for this about my friend.
  • I am thankful for this personality trait that everyone loves about me.
  • I am thankful for this activity.
  • I am thankful for this song.
  • I am thankful for this modern convenience.
  • I am thankful that I have this item that I can’t live without.
  • I am thankful for this food.
  • I am thankful for this about the current season.
  • I am thankful for this memory.
  • I am thankful for this talent that I have.
  • I am thankful for this comfort.
  • I am thankful for this scent.
  • I am thankful for this sound.
  • I am thankful for this opportunity.
  • I am thankful for who I am.

Remember, love starts with gratitude.

Learn more about Spiritual Care at USA Health. Patients, family members and USA Health associates are encouraged to call the Meaningful Reflections Line at 251-445-9016 for a daily recorded word of encouragement. 


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