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, assistant professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington in North Carolina. “Gratitude 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 often think of gratitude as being thankful for what others give us or something we “give” to others. But Pond says to view it as a component of your emotional health. “It’s all about reflection, being self-aware, and being mindful of your experiences,” he explains.
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 adverse reactions. “One of the reasons people become less aggressive when feeling gratitude is because their empathy rises. It makes you more sensitive to other people’s needs.”
Being grateful also helps with a fundamental 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 like waiting in line at the DMV. Look at that situation in the way of: At least you have a car.
Try this exercise:
Write down five things for which you are thankful.
“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.
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