The impacts of gratitude on our communities.
“A little gratitude goes a long way,” is something I often say to my kids. While it’s important to me that they say “thank you” to people who do nice things for them, I also know that feeling grateful is important for their long term health. A core positive emotion, gratitude has meaningful benefits for both our emotional and our physical health.
While expressing gratitude in the moment has social and health benefits, there are a number of forms that gratitude can take that have a significant impact not just on our own health, but on the health of our community.
- Gratitude journaling. According to research published in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience, women who spent three weeks responding to questions on gratitude showed an increase in altruistic behavior. Essentially, after spending the time journaling about gratitude, their brain response shifted in a way that there was more activity in the region associated with altruism: They felt better about a charity receiving money than they did about receiving money themselves. Director of the University of Oregon’s Emotions and Neuroplasticity Project Christina M. Karns emphasizes, “our findings suggest that there is more good out there when there is gratitude.”
- Thank you notes. In the current age of instant communication and e-notes, it might feel old-fashioned to write an actual pen-to-paper thank you note. In fact, according to research at University of Texas at Austin and published in Psychological Science, participants felt that the recipient of a thank you note would feel awkward, when in fact, there was a sense of genuine appreciation when someone was sent a note thanking them. While there remains great value in sending thank you notes, it’s important to remember that in terms of personal well-being, simply the act of writing a thank you letter, whether or not it is sent, has proven to be a powerful practice.
- Say it. The simple act of thanking someone, in the present moment, for some kind action they have taken turns out to be profound. Not only does it strengthen the relationship, (I see long-term marriage benefits here), but it also significantly benefits the immune system, sleep, and heart health of the person doing the thanking. Ultimately, expressing gratitude helps us connect with others in a way that in our tech-driven world is lacking.
Each of us has the choice to see life as half full or half empty. We are reminded once a year to ‘Give Thanks’, but the benefits of doing that every day, in whatever form it takes, has the ability to profoundly affect both us and the world we live in.