The Benefits of Thanks

By Christie Wilcox | November 24, 2011 6:37 am

Today is Thanksgiving – a day to relax, take a step back, and honestly express gratitude.

Gratitude. By definition, it is the state of being grateful or thankful. It is universally seen as a positive human attribute. You can hear how highly gratitude is thought of over and over again in sayings from all over the world:

A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues. -Roman saying

The truly rich are those who enjoy what they have. – Yiddish proverb

If you’re not thankful then you’re a wizard. – African Proverb

Perhaps the merits of gratitude have been parised for centuries in so many cultures for good reason. Studies have shown that expressing gratitude is connected to a wide variety of positive outcomes.

Gratitude may help us deal with stress, for example. Over the past decade, evidence has been mounting to show that gratitude mitigates the negative consequences of traumatic events. Studies have found that soldiers who score higher on dispositional gratitude are less likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Similarly, another study found an inverse correlation between gratitude and PTSD symptom levels in college women who experienced trauma.

Of course, the benefits of gratitude extend far beyond serious traumatic events. Simply expressing gratitude has positive effects on our daily lives. In one study, Kent State researchers had students write one letter every two weeks with the simple ground rules that it had to be positively expressive, require some insight and reflection, be nontrivial and contain a high level of appreciation or gratitude. After each letter, students completed a survey to gauge their moods, satisfaction with life and feelings of gratitude and happiness – all of which increased after each letter – the more they wrote, the happier they were.

Similar results have been found in a number of other studies. Middle school students that counted their blessings expressed enhanced self-reported gratitude, optimism, life satisfaction, and decreased negative feelings. In adults, the keeping of gratitude journals led to overall happier thoughts. Not only were the journal keepers in a better mood, they also were more likely to to report having helped someone with a personal problem or offered emotional support to another, suggesting that the positive affects of gratitude expand outward.

Given the benefits of expressing thanks, I decided to do so myself. Yesterday, I sat on my couch with a pad of paper and my favorite purple sharpie pen and wrote out all the little things in my life that I am thankful for. It turned out to be quite a long list – about 8 pages long, actually. So rather than bore you with the whole thing, I’ve included a few of my favorite highlights:

  • I am thankful for all of the people in my life who have made me smile. If you have ever been my friend, then you have surely made me smile a lot, so I am extra grateful for you.
  • I am thankful for my family, who helped me become the woman I am today.
  • I am thankful for Bora, for the term ‘BlogFather’ is more fitting than he knows, and for the rest of my eccentric but lovable blogging family.
  • I am thankful for cheese. Yes, cheese. Cheese, bacon, sushi, curry, pasta and Dippin’ Dots. My six basic food groups.
  • I’m thankful to the natural world for providing beautiful, intricate and complex puzzles that I, as a scientist, am lucky enough to study.
  • I am thankful for my liver, for without its championship team of Alcohol Dehydrogenase and Aldehyde Dehydrogenase, I never could have become the marine scientist I am today. (#drunksci)
  • I am thankful for the people and things that inspire me to do what I love.
  • I am thankful for my wonderful roommate, who always knows whether a situation requires a bottle of wine, a hug, or a patient ear.
  • I am thankful to her cat, Yoshi, for finally forgiving me for making him do the cat dance.
  • I am thankful to the people who remind me that the greatest thing you can do for yourself is to love someone else fully.
  • I am thankful for little surprises.
  • And last but not least, thank you, for it is you, my readers, that make blogging worthwhile.

Enjoy your day of thanks, and don’t forget to express to the people you love just how thankful you are to have them. Happy Thanksgiving!

Image c/o holidays.kaboose.com

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health, Mind & Brain
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About Christie Wilcox

Christie Wilcox is a science writer and PhD Student at the University of Hawaii, where she studies the protein toxins in venomous fish. She is renowned in the science blogosphere for her delicate balance of contemporary science and scientific perspective seasoned with just the right amount of wit. Her award-winning posts have been featured in The Open Laboratory: The Best Science Writing On Blogs four years running and landed on the pages of major media outlets including The New York Times and Scientific American. To learn more about her life and work, check out her webpage or follow her on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook.

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