The Healing Power of Gratitude

“What are you thankful for?”

Going around the table and answering that question is a Thanksgiving tradition many of us have engaged in since we were children, and there tends to be one common theme that comes up in people’s responses every year: family and friends. Just as turkey and stuffing fill our stomachs, the company of our loved ones fills our hearts, and we’d be lost without it. But outside of November, we often fail to consciously think about how fortunate we are to have these people in our lives. That’s why this Thanksgiving season, we’re challenging you to extend your gratitude beyond the holiday.

What is Gratitude?

The first step towards a grateful state of mind is to recognize precisely what gratitude entails. While the words “gratitude” and “thankfulness” are often used interchangeably, there is a notable difference between the two, and recognizing that difference is key to being truly grateful.

The main distinction between gratitude and thankfulness is that while thankfulness is a feeling, gratitude is an action. No matter how thankful you may feel towards a person, that person has no way of knowing that you appreciate their efforts unless you show gratitude, whether with a simple “thank you” or a grander gesture like cooking them a meal or helping them clean their house.

Why Gratitude Matters

One of the most remarkable things about the human race is our instinctive desire to treat each other with kindness. Being nice feels nice. Sometimes all it takes to motivate us to go out of our way for another person—whether they’re a loved one or a stranger—is the mere thought of making them happy. But, of course, it’s hard to be sure that our efforts to cheer someone up were successful if they don’t let us know in some way. That’s why gratitude is essential for inspiring people to be their best, kindest selves.

A study by Greater Good Magazine provides solid evidence of just how powerful of a motivator gratitude can be. During one stage of the study, subjects were provided with a small monetary gift and encouraged to give some of it to charity if they felt grateful for the generosity they had just been shown. Both the subjects’ answers to interview questions and their brain activity indicated a direct correlation between their gratitude and willingness to share. The more grateful a person felt, the more they wanted to do something nice for someone else.

In other words, taking a moment to appreciate the kind acts of others makes us more likely to pass that kindness on.

Gratitude and Mental Health

Gratitude doesn’t just benefit the people around us; it also improves our own mental health. A mindset of gratitude often fills a person with optimism. After all, the world looks a lot more beautiful when one remembers just how many good people exist in it.

The positive attitude that gratitude cultivates can provide a person with a second wind of sorts. A grateful person will often have more energy to engage in work, hobbies, and physical exercise, all of which contribute to a healthier body and mind. And perhaps most importantly of all, gratitude instills a sense of faith in humanity that makes us more inclined to socialize, whether it’s with people we’ve known for years or with people we’ve just met, thus providing a highly effective remedy for loneliness.

An Activity to Promote Gratitude

Gratitude doesn’t always come naturally, but you can do a quick exercise to help yourself get in the right frame of mind.

Tonight, before you go to bed, think about one nice thing another person has done for you this week. It can be something as simple as the cashier at the grocery store complimenting your shirt or something as grand as your spouse taking you out for a romantic dinner. Once you have an act of kindness in mind, take out a pen and paper or sit down by your computer and start writing a letter to the person who performed it. Put into writing exactly how their good deed made you feel, remembering that they chose to do something nice because they wanted to, not because they needed to.

You don’t actually need to send your letter (although you can if you have a way of contacting the recipient and think they would like it); all that matters is that you’re taking a moment to put your feelings into words. As you repeat this activity each week, you will become more conscious of all you have to be grateful for.

Join us for our Thursday Thrive & Vibe virtual event on November 25, 10:00 am – 11:00 am EST on “The Best Attitude is Gratitude: Learn to Start Each Day with a Grateful Heart,” hosted by Diana Willard, an energy healer. You can register for free here.