Gratitude’s Effect on Emotional Wellness
November introduces the start of holiday season with upcoming Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa. While this time is marketed as a time of cheer, for many the holiday season triggers more negative feelings ranging from sadness to anxiety to depression. The very premise of Thanksgiving – to give thanks – actually reflects a gratitude practice that is proven to improve one’s mood. Therefore, it is timely to consider introducing a gratitude practice during this season to help combat those negative emotions that may arise as the weather gets colder, the days get darker and for many, stressful family encounters become imminent. And for those who do feel cheerful during the holiday season, feeling and expressing gratitude is a practice that will also serve you, as it helps to sustain, improve and spread your cheeriness.
Gratitude has become an increasingly more popular phrase in the wellness movement sweeping this generation. According to Madeline Weinfeld, LMSW, the emphasis on gratitude as a healthy practice is actually rooted in research that links gratitude with reduced stress, better sleep quality and generally greater joy. Acknowledging moments of gratitude can take a few seconds out of your day, but can have much longer-lasting effects.
Consider creating a gratitude journal, in which you list different things you appreciate each day. The list can include things that happened specifically that day, however big or small they may be. Perhaps there is appreciation for the hot cup of coffee you had that morning or for the warm blanket you sat under to watch tv. My personal favorite NYC gratitude moment is the one I get when I see my subway train pulling up just as I enter the station, meaning I won’t need to stand around in the often way too hot subway station, waiting for one to arrive. The journal can also reflect things from the past that you thought of that day. For example, if it is a really cold day and you remember your mother bought you gloves last year, you may feel grateful in that moment for her gift. Gratitude can also be future oriented, reflecting an optimism or hope for something upcoming, such as an exciting opportunity at work.
Cataloguing these moments of gratitude in a journal can help foster a general sense of appreciation about one’s existence. When feeling depressed, our thoughts often become distorted and try convincing us that everything is bad. Having a tangible list of things that you appreciate can help you challenge the cognitive distortions and have a more balanced outlook rather than a more black and white perception. There is a lot of value in reading through your gratitude journal before bed and/or upon waking up, as a means of setting the tone for your day through a gracious lens.
Another element of gratitude that can be very fruitful is to express gratitude outwardly. Saying thank you to a kind stranger who holds the door open for you, or thanking a friend for being thoughtful, can have profound effects on the recipient of your gratitude, but also on you, the giver of the expression. Try smiling at your taxi driver and thanking him for your ride, or giving an extra tip to your delivery man on a snowy night. Take note of how these simple exchanges rooted in gratitude may elevate your mood, as a means of reinforcing the practice.
A gratitude practice encourages individuals to become more active observers of their lives, taking note of anything and everything that adds even a moment of joy. Even on the bleakest of days, there is certainly something worth expressing gratitude for, be it the water you are drinking, the air you are breathing or the home you are living in. As we become more astute to noting these things, it begins to happen more naturally, and with time the gratitude practice happens as effortlessly as our other tasks of daily living, adding a consistently positive element to our everyday lives. While it may feel forced or cheesy at first, acknowledging and expressing gratitude can become a more natural and instinctive part of your daily routine, and is one that is proven to enhance your quality of life.
Take this short gratitude quiz here: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/quizzes/take_quiz/gratitude