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We are all aware that saying thank you is one of the simplest, nicest things we can do. We are taught from the very beginning that it’s good manners, and so we utter the phrase- when the occasion requires it- effortlessly. But there is a difference between muttering “thanks” to random strangers throughout the day, and sending sincere tokens of gratitude.
While both are appreciated (we know how good it feels to be on the receiving end of a thank you) the latter- the genuine, heartfelt thanks we send into the world- can be beneficial to our overall mental health.
In a study by doctors from both the University of California and the University of Miami, participants were instructed to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.
Group one were made to focus on gratitude.
Group two were asked to write about negative experiences and group three were asked to remain neutral. At the end of the study, group one’s subjects were happier, felt better about themselves and were more optimistic.
This is only one study, and one piece of evidence in support of the fact that gratitude is beneficial to us, and it all begins with our mood.
Gratitude makes us happier
Due to the fact that gratitude activates a rush of dopamine in our brains, feeling thankful makes us happy. Positive thinking can and does lead to positive behavior, and saying ‘thank you’ makes us feel good.
Gratitude also makes us more empathetic and sensitive. Furthermore, studies have shown that being thankful makes us kinder, better people.
But although gratitude certainly does cheer us up and brighten our days, it also chases the dark away. Gratitude reduces negative emotions and behaviors including envy, anger, insecurity and aggression. It makes us less violent, and less likely to seek revenge or harm upon others. It also helps us rid ourselves of guilt.
The reason why gratitude has such a positive influence on us is because we have one track minds. Simply put, we can’t feel anger and gratitude at the same time – one will inevitably drown out the other. Choosing to focus on the good will undoubtedly have profound effects on our well-being, and the easiest way to do so is to be thankful!
Gratitude makes us more optimistic
As discussed in the aforementioned study, subjects who focused on the things they were grateful for grew more optimistic than those who remained neutral, and those who wrote about negativity. While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact reason why this happens, one can speculate.
Perhaps focusing on the little things we have to be thankful for makes us more aware that beauty and kindness are everywhere, thereby leading us to feel grateful for even more? It matters not.
The fact remains: Those who are grateful have much brighter outlooks on life than those who are not.
Gratitude makes us more spiritual
It cannot be coincidence that in all major religions, spiritual paths, and walks of life gratitude is described as a virtue. It is unclear whether religion/ spirituality are the reason why we place so much emphasis on gratitude, or, if we place so much emphasis on religion and spirituality because of gratitude.
Regardless, the message is clear: When we are thankful, we feel attuned with the universe When something feeds our spirits, it feeds our minds too. Since gratitude works wonders on our souls, imagine the effect it has on our psychology!
Gratitude makes us less selfish
While there is nothing wrong with being a little bit self-centered every once in a while, selfishness is a very unattractive and unpleasant quality.
But gratitude is the exact opposite. It is the practice of acknowledging the good in others, and for that reason, when practised often and consistently, it makes us less selfish, less self-centered and less self-important. It also makes us more willing to share, more caring and more honest.
Going back to happiness; this makes us more empathetic and more inclined to be kind to others. Showing gratitude humbles us, and begins a cycle of good deeds.
It does more than increase our confidence and self-esteem
Gratitude feels good. That much is clear. It feels so good, we start to feel better about ourselves to the point that our self-esteem gets a lovely boost and our confidence levels increase.
But it goes further than that. Gratitude makes us more attractive too!
In a recent study, researchers compared physical and non-physical attraction. While they established what most of us already knew (but aren’t ready to admit); that looks do matter, especially when it comes to sexual attraction, non-physical factors such as likability were rated more important and therefore more attractive.
And guess what? Gratitude makes you more likable to those around you.
This confirmation from others (whether we are aware of it consciously or not) also boosts our confidence and self-esteem.
It’s great for self-control
Because gratitude can make us less selfish and less self-centered, it increases our sense of self-control and discipline.
Subconsciously we are aware that our actions have consequences, and since we become more empathetic and aware of others, we realize that sometimes those consequences affect other people.
It also strengthens out reasoning and our willingness to act.
In a study, doctors were given a false list of ailments regarding a patient. Half of the doctors were given tokens of appreciation, the other half received nothing. Those who were thanked were quicker to realize the false diagnosis and more likely to correct the information than those who weren’t. The doctors who were thanked were also more likely to go the extra mile for the patient.
Gratitude makes for happy memories
Human memory is silly because we are not very good at remembering things. Our memory is so weak, it is possible to be coerced or persuaded into remembering events incorrectly- or even recalling events that never happened. Our memories change quite often actually, but it’s not always a bad thing.
Being grateful makes us more likely to recall positives. In some cases it has the power to transform bad (or dull) memories into more positive and less traumatic ones.
Gratitude fights depression and anxiety
In one of the more popular studies in gratitude in which the subjects struggled with depression and anxiety, it was proven that being thankful directly correlated to lowered depression scores. Of course, this goes back to the very first point; that gratitude makes us happier and more optimistic.
In the same study, results showed that while there was no direct correlation between gratitude and lessened anxiety, there was a decrease in anxiety regardless because gratitude helps us sleep better and sleep is a powerful remedy for anxiety and panic disorders.
Gratitude strengthens the mind
So, not only does being thankful have spiritual benefits, it turns us into better people, makes us more attractive and fights off negativity, aggression, anger, depression and anxiety. Saying thankful is a powerful tool we can use to keep our minds strong and our lives good.
Best of all, it doesn’t cost a thing. There is truth to the saying that a little thanks goes a long way!