It’s an emotion worth expressing.
Gratitude has become a buzzword in the healthy living space and it’s more than just saying “thank you.” “Gratitude is a positive emotion, but it can’t be reduced to just that,” says Richard S. Pond, Jr., PhD, social psychologist at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. “Gratitude basically motivates you to be sensitive to other people’s concerns. It acts as a barometer in the sense that when you feel gratitude, you realize that you’re benefiting from someone else’s actions.” We talked to Pond about how to channel gratitude in our lives, toward others, and why it’s important.
The Personal Perks
We often think of gratitude as being thankful for what others give us, or as something we “give” to others. But Pond says view it as a component of your emotional health. “It’s all about reflection, being self aware, and being mindful of your experiences,” he says.
Gratitude is closely related to empathy, altruism, and curiosity or being open to new things, Pond says. It’s the opposite of feeling lonely, which has been linked to increased levels of stress and sickness. Plus, gratitude counteracts negative reactions. “My research shows that gratitude reduces aggressive impulses” by promoting positive thoughts and behaviors, he says. A tame temper benefits your stress levels, and those of the people around you. “One of the reasons people become less aggressive when they are feeling gratitude is because their empathy rises. It makes you more sensitive to other people’s needs.”
The Pro-Social Perks
Being grateful turns out to also help with a very basic need we all share. “This human drive to belong and connect with others through social support is important to our psychological and physical health,” he says. “Essentially, when you’re feeling gratitude, it promotes these pro-social intentions, which will help keep those social connections.” And it’s not just contact with those close to you. If you practice gratitude, you may react more positively to frustrating social situations such as waiting in along line at the DMV (Look at it this way: At least you have a car).
Try this exercise from Pond:
Write down five things that you are thankful for. “Spend a little time each day thinking about these things,” Pond says. Don’t stick to one topic or material item—reflect on the moments in all aspects of your life, possibly including family, friendship, work, health, and body image. Aren’t you grateful for your lovely smile?