Gratitude is Good For You

Published: November 22, 2022

Gratitude is Good For You

It’s the season of thankfulness! As we prepare to gather friends and loved ones for the Thanksgiving holiday, we may be thinking of things for which we are grateful so we can participate in the traditional round-robin of thanks before we dig into our feast. Research suggests that gratitude should be a year-round practice and doing so may even help keep us healthy!

Researchers from the University of California Berkeley studied college students who were receiving mental health counseling from the college. All had similarly low levels of mental health. One-third of the students were assigned to write weekly gratitude letters, one-third journaled about their negative thoughts, and the last third only received counseling. After the study ended, the researchers found that the group that wrote gratitude letters reported much better mental health at both four and 12 weeks following the study. Even though the students in that group had stopped their gratitude practice, they were still reaping the benefits. Here are just some of the other benefits the researchers uncovered during the study:

Gratitude frees us from toxic emotions. Gratitude frees us from toxic emotions such as frustration, envy, resentment, self-pity or regret. The researchers in this study realized that the students who reported the most improvement in their mental health was the group who used positive words in their journaling. It wasn’t only the absence of negative words, but the inclusion of positive words that had the greatest effect on overall satisfaction. The researchers posited that the letter writing helped to shift the students’ focus away from negative feelings and toward positive feelings.

It takes time, but the benefits are lasting. Building a practice of gratitude, like any other habit, takes some time to implement. But once that practice is in place, the benefits to our mental and physical health are long-lasting. Participants in the UC Berkeley study continued to report better mental health more than three months after the study had concluded.

It doesn’t need to be public. We don’t need to involve anyone else in our practice of gratitude. It can be a totally private activity, and it will still be just as effective. Only 23% of the students in the study sent the letters they wrote. It wasn’t enough data to understand how the act of sending the letter affected the student mental health, but it was proof that the act of letter writing alone was effective in lifting feelings of wellbeing.

So this Thanksgiving, commit to practicing gratitude all year round. Hold a door open, write a gratitude letter, or start a thankfulness diary. Then, by next Thanksgiving, you might have even more reasons to be thankful.

Source: IlluminAge with information from University of California Berkeley.