Excerpted from an article in the MESSA DiscoverYou November/December 2019 newsletter

The power of gratitude has been studied for years, focusing on subjects from across demographics and all walks of life. A large body of research shows that intentionally engaging in a practice of gratitude has benefits for both the mind and body.MESSA logo RGB Blue no tag R 2

The benefits for mental health can’t be denied, and have been quantified. According to researchers at Indiana University, the mental benefits of gratitude include:

  • Decreased feelings of depression and anxiety.
  • A better ability to cope with stress.
  • Increased feelings of confidence and self-worth.
  • Generally higher feelings of happiness.

What’s more, they also found that practicing gratitude may even rewire the brain to be more sensitive to experiencing gratitude. In short, it’s likely that gratitude breeds greater gratitude.

What some may find surprising is that there are physical benefits associated with having an attitude of gratitude.

Robert Emmons, a leading expert on gratitude and professor of psychology at University of California Davis, notes in his book “Gratitude Works!” that numerous studies have consistently found practicing gratitude can lead to:

  • Improved cardiac health.
  • Decreased blood pressure.
  • Better sleep habits.
  • Quicker recovery from illness.
  • Increased feelings of energy.

There may be times when finding something to be grateful for is more challenging, but it’s never impossible. Consider the plight of journalist Laura Ling.

In 2009, Ling was working on a documentary about North Koreans who had defected to China. While at the China-North Korea border, she was captured by North Korean guards. She was put on trial for spying, found guilty and sentenced to 12 years hard labor. She was eventually released after being held captive for five months. She credits practicing gratitude daily as vital to keeping herself going during even her darkest days. Some days it was as simple as being grateful for seeing a butterfly outside of a window. “It gave me a sense of not only peace, but also purpose,” Ling said during a keynote speech in San Diego.

No matter what is happening in your life, there is always something to be grateful for. And experts say that finding gratitude during challenges can help you take notice of more things to be appreciative in your life.

HOW TO START PRACTICING GRATITUDE
Simply writing down what you’re grateful for on a regular basis helps you realize how much good you have in your life. The sentiment can be grandiose and fill up an entire sheet in your journal, or it may be as simple as, “The sunshine on my morning drive felt warm on my face.”

Taking the time to reflect on the people we love makes us value them even more, and it may lead us to seek out more things that we’re grateful for—the smell of coffee brewing, a flower growing in the crack of the sidewalk, the sometimes messy household that speaks of the richness of your family life, and so on. Once unleashed, gratitude knows no bounds.

OBSERVE “30 DAYS OF THANKS”
It’s as simple as it sounds: Post something on social media that you’re grateful for each day of the month. For those of you who don’t like to write, another version of this is to post a photo of something you’re grateful for without any words. While this challenge tends to trend more in November, you certainly can do it any time.

THANK FIVE PEOPLE
Think of five people who have had an important impact on your life and write each one of them a letter to express your gratitude. If you’re so inclined, you can mail the letters, but it’s not a required part of this exercise.

An Indiana University study directed participants who were experiencing depression to write letters to people to whom they were grateful. Just the act of writing the letters improved the participants’ mental well-being. Furthermore, those who participated in the study reported better feelings of mental well-being immediately and three months after writing the letters.

MESSA DiscoverYou is a bi-monthly health and wellness newsletter available to MESSA members. For more information about MESSA health benefits and services, call 1-833-341-6276. Visit MESSA online at www.messa.org