The Mind-Changing Benefits of Giving Thanks
Why being thankful and helpful really is the best way to spend the holidays.
“Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.” – Henri Frederic Amiel
It’s surprisingly paradoxical that during the season of giving we often forget to give thanks. The holidays, when we’re given time off to relax and instead feel rushed and pressed for time, can be a difficult time for many people. Amid packed shopping centers, hectic schedules, and occasionally family dramas, the holidays can be less than jolly for some.
With all the chaos it’s even more important to take a minute to slow down and express thanks. For one, it can make the season a bit more bearable, but also because, there are some surprisingly incredible benefits to expressing gratitude.
The benefits of gratitude extend past ourselves and into the world. By giving thanks for our lives, circumstances, and for others, gratitude helps shift perspective and encourage positive sentiments.
Overall, there are proven benefits to your physical, mental, and social realms of life just by performing a few simple acts.
Why it’s good for you
There are a number of interesting changes that take place in your mind when you practice gratitude. Science has shown that expressing gratitude allows you to focus on the positive and helps to restructure your emotional processes, increasing overall levels of happiness and positivity. And it’s now well documented that optimists live longer, so there’s that.
It has been shown that those who express gratitude sleep better, are more mentally resilient, and show improvements in self-esteem. It helps reduce social comparison making you less likely to feel resentful and bitter towards others accomplishments.
Turning your mind towards the good also increases your focus on your life and allows you to perform better because of reduced anxiety and stress. Gratitude regulates our levels of dopamine giving us a positive feeling boost, as well as regulating hormones relating to stress and anxiety.
Aside from helping our personal experiences, when we express gratitude towards others it strengthens the interpersonal bonds and triggers feelings of closeness. Social connectivity is a huge marker of contentedness and helps increase longevity. Gratitude fosters prosocial behaviors between people that increase cooperation and benevolence.
These results generally take time to accrue. By consistently practicing gratitude, the mind becomes accustomed to noticing the positive experiences in your life, helping you spend less time focusing on negative or toxic thoughts and emotions. The neural pathways that are activated by expressing gratitude are strengthened over time the more it is practiced, helping sustain overall levels of contentedness and joy.
“Okay, I’m in. So how do I do it?”
It only takes a few minutes a day and can be a simple gesture. Here are some ways you can easily give thanks.
Write a gratitude list
The simplest way to express gratitude is to write it down. Take a minute before you start the day to list three things that you are grateful for or that you can look forward to. Writing down your thanks over time allows you to keep a record of all the things going well in your life and it can help strengthen your response for when things go awry.
Text a friend or family member and let them know you appreciate them.
A quick “Thinking of you” or “So happy I have you” text can do wonders to make others feel appreciated and loved. You’ll realize all the goodness in your relationship and they will get a boost. Gratitude begets gratitude.
Compliment someone’s job well done
Noticing what others do well, be it your partner, friend, or a colleague can help you recognize the help, love, or support they give you. Letting others know verbally how they are doing well strengthens bonds and helps reduce feelings of competitiveness and resentment.
Share good news with others
Did you recently try a to-die-for restaurant? Or binge-watch a show that everyone should see? Or maybe you have a fun story that could bring someone a laugh. Sharing good news promotes a positive ambiance in your circle and shows people that you care about their happiness and experiences.
Take a moment to meditate on your surroundings and circumstances with a non-judgemental view. By engaging your whole body you can express gratitude in your senses and engage with the world in a much more aware manner.
Donate, gift, or volunteer
Practice gratitude for what you have and giving away extra time, money, or gifts to those in need or to brighten the day of another.
There are a thousand more ways to practice gratitude in your everyday life. Practicing gratitude is like building an interior mind muscle and the more you do it, the better you get. It can be difficult to turn the mind away from itself, but the rewards are great.