Gratitude is not just saying “thank you.” New research indicates that gratitude can literally change your brain. Psychologically speaking, it has the amazing ability to shift our thinking from focusing on the negative to appreciating all the positive things that surround us.
For the past five years, we have had the opportunity to reflect on what we have during a month dedicated to thankfulness. “National Gratitude Month” was submitted by Stacey Grewal and proclaimed by the Registrar at National Day Calendar in August 2015. Gratitude "guru" Grewal credits gratitude and self-improvement for saving her life physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
"Gratitude is an essential ingredient of a happy, fulfilling life," said Grewal in 2015. "Research shows that practicing daily gratitude can enhance our moods, decrease stress, and drastically improve our overall level of well-being. This challenge is a great opportunity to see if you can improve your life by getting more in touch with gratitude."
Robert Emmons, one of the world's leading scientific experts on gratitude has been studying the effects of gratitude on physical health, psychological well-being, and our relationships with others for over two decades. One of the main tools to cultivate gratitude systematically is keeping a “gratitude journal” in which people can record the things for which they are grateful.
“Gratitude journals and other gratitude practices often seem so simple and basic; in our studies, we often have people keep gratitude journals for just three weeks,” writes Emmons, “and yet the results have been overwhelming.”
Professor Emmons has studied many individuals of all ages and found that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:
- Stronger immune systems
- Less bothered by aches and pains
- Lower blood pressure
- Exercise more and take better care of their health
- Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
- Higher levels of positive emotions
- More alert, alive, and awake
- More joy and pleasure
- More optimism and happiness
- More helpful, generous, and compassionate
- More forgiving
- More outgoing
- Feel less lonely and isolated
“The social benefits are especially significant here because, after all, gratitude is a social emotion,” says Emmons. “I see it as a relationship-strengthening emotion because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.”
An attitude of gratitude and healthy relationships are also powerful recovery tools. Feeling less isolated, more optimism, better sleep, and higher levels of positive emotions are all strong foundations for a sustained recovery since substance misuse is often driven by depression, anxiety, negative feelings, and loneliness.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased isolation, economic uncertainty, and increased levels of anxiety about the future often making people forget the things they can be grateful for—especially in difficult times. The month of November and Thanksgiving Day provide great opportunities for reflection and gratitude.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance misuse but you are unsure what addiction treatment services are available during the COVID-19 pandemic, please contact the Farley Center at 800.582.6066 and find out about your options.