Tomorrow across America, families will gather, turkey will be eaten, holiday shopping will start, and—in many places—gratitude will be expressed. Zig Ziglar famously said, “Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions.” Sounds nice… but is it really true?
Researchers are discovering that Zig really wasn’t that far off! Here are four benefits of being thankful that surprised me:
1. Less depression and discouragement.
Dr. Robert Emmons (University of California-Davis) & Michael McCullough (University of Miami) have been studying gratitude for some time. They did a study where they asked a group of people to keep gratitude journals. In these journals, they were required to write 5 things each week they were thankful for. They could write anything they liked – a meal they enjoyed, a kindness from a friend, a sunset or something they learned.
Two months later, they asked the journalers & a control group of people a series of questions, and discovered that those who wrote in the journals (1) felt more optimistic, (2) reported fewer physical problems, and (3) spent more time working out.
The emotional healthiness of gratitude is confirmed in Ann Voskamp’s book “1000 Gifts.” She tells about her struggle with depression and discouragement, and talks about her gratitude project of listing 1,000 things for which she was thankful. Her experiment with gratitude for even the smallest of things — a seed, a sunset, a baby’s smile — helped pull her from the darkness and return the light.
2. More sleep, better sleep.
A similar study was conducted with a group of people who suffered from neuromuscular problems, such as polio survivors. Those who wrote in gratitude journals fell asleep faster, slept better, and woke up feeling more refreshed than the control group.
The effect was marked enough that Dr. Emmons says in his book “Thanks!”, “If you want to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep.”
3. More likely to help others.
At Northeastern University, an experiment was conducted by Bartlett & Desteno that investigated the effect of gratitude on social kindness. To set up the experiment, they sabotaged computers belonging to some students, and arranged to have another student offer to help them fix the problem. After the problem was fixed, and the students had left, they were asked by a stranger if they would mind helping out with an unrelated problem. The ones who had been helped by others, were more likely to help the stranger.
4. Less likely to be bothered by criticism.
Which of us haven’t taken some criticism in the past few months that wasn’t fair? Want to be able to weather the storm of undeserved criticism? Consider this recent experiment at the University of Kentucky:
Students were required to turn in an essay. Some students received praise for their effort, while others were severely criticized, with words like, “This is one of the worst essays I’ve ever seen!” The students were then asked to play a computer game against those who had given the evaluations. Upon winning, they were allowed to subject their reviewer to a blast of noise.
You’re probably not surprised at this: The ones who had received the criticism hit their critics with a much louder blast than those who had been praised for their writing.
But here’s where it gets interesting: Among the group of students who had been criticized, one segment had been assigned a topic — to write about things that made them thankful. This group was no more likely to blast their critics than the ones who had received positive evaluations! Their “attitude of gratitude” made them, in a sense, immune to the negative effects of the criticism!
From Thanksgiving to Thanks-living
Here are a few ideas to incorporate gratitude into your life:
- Keep a gratitude journal.
- Write a thank-you note each day.
- Take a day to thank God for large things — the universe, the ocean, and the sun
- The next day, see how small you can go!
- Pin a Scripture about thanksgiving to your sun visor and read it each time you get in the car.