Research shows that gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma. Studies found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the September 11 terrorist attacks. Recognizing all you have to be thankful for – even during the worst times of your life – fosters resilience.

Psychologists, Dr. Robert Emmons (UC Davis) and Dr. Michael McCullough (University of Miami) have done much of the research on gratitude. In one study, they asked the participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.

One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. This group also exercised more and had fewer doctor visits than those who focused on sources of aggravation.

According to researchers:

  • Gratitude improves relationships and leads people to behave in a prosocial manner, even when others behave less kind. Gratitude enhances empathy, reduces aggression and decreases the desire to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback.
  • Gratitude improves physical health: grateful people experience fewer aches and pains, exercise more often and they report feeling healthier.
  • Gratitude improves psychological health – reducing many toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Multiple studies show the link between gratitude and well-being, confirming the thinking that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.
  • Grateful people sleep better.
  • Gratitude improves self-esteem. A 2014 Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased athlete’s self-esteem – an essential component to optimal performance. Studies have also shown that gratitude reduces social comparisons. Rather than becoming resentful toward people who have more money or better jobs – which is a major factor in reduced self-esteem- grateful people are able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments.

Can we extend Thanksgiving? Being thankful throughout the year could have tremendous benefits on our quality of life. Gratitude may be one of the most overlooked tools that we have access to. We have the ability to cultivate gratitude, it doesn’t cost any money and it certainly doesn’t take much time, but the benefits are enormous. I am continuing the practice of weekly journaling on all that we have that I started with my children a few years ago, to help them learn the skill of thanksgiving.