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Mental Health: Gratitude brings extensive benefits

Mental Health: Gratitude brings extensive benefits

The Thanksgiving holiday evokes thoughts of family and special times spent together, feeling and expressing gratitude for the things we have and where we live. There is currently significant turmoil in the worldwide marketplace, and it is rippling its way into our local communities. Money and material things are central to the American way of life, and the current economic crisis is having an impact on how many people are experiencing this holiday.

In spite of what many think and advertisements would have us believe, acquiring more material possessions does not really satisfy our deepest human needs. The lack of meaning of many material goods reminds us that too strong of a focus on those things can do serious harm to our adjustment and happiness. It is apparent, however, that gratitude and the generosity that flows from gratitude, releases us from the fruitless search for happiness in acquiring more stuff and things.

We need to stop and reset our thinking at this special holiday time and renew our focus on thanksgiving and gratitude. We need to remember that grateful people experience significantly increased levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress.

Pursue gratitude as a strategy to improve your psychological well-being. The following are a few suggestions to accomplish that.

•Engage in gratitude activities such as expressing appreciation to one or more individuals daily. This would be especially appropriate tomorrow on Thanksgiving Day. Adopt other gratitude activities to increase feelings of being connected to others, to experience more optimism about one's life, decrease depressive mood and improve sleep duration and quality. Gratitude also broadens the scope of cognition and enables flexible and creative thinking.

•Focus on the caring received from others and you will experience increased feelings of being loved and cared for by others.

•Keep an updated gratitude journal weekly or more frequently. This will influence your attitude about daily life, you will feel better, be more active, have fewer physical symptoms and be more optimistic about the upcoming week.

•Keep an updated gratitude list and refer to it daily. You will be more likely to make progress toward important personal goals.

•Spend time regularly with other individuals who evidence higher levels of well-being and express gratitude and thanksgiving frequently. Positive emotions such as gratitude broaden mindsets and build enduring psychological, social and spiritual resources. These internal resources can be drawn on in times of need.

•Practice daily gratitude activities to increase feelings of being connected to others, to experience more optimism about your life, decrease your depressive mood and improve your sleep duration and sleep quality. These activities will also broaden the scope and flexibility in your thinking.

•Share something with others regularly. It will increase your connection and commitment to them and result in your being more grateful for what you have.

Grateful individuals place less importance on material goods, do not judge success in terms of possessions accumulated, are less envious of others and are more likely to share their possessions with others.

Make thanksgiving and gratitude a personal focus in this holiday season, and purpose to make it a part of your ongoing life. Be thankful and grateful for the good things you have received and the blessings you have experienced this past year. This will lead to improved adjustment and happiness in spite of tumultuous economic shifts and changes.

Remember that thanksgiving and gratitude can be exercised in the midst of loss, trials and troubles. It is good to acknowledge the loss of little things and big things in life and learn to focus on thanksgiving and gratitude for the good received and blessings experienced. Staying thankful in the present makes it easier to bear loss when it inevitably occurs.

Choose thanksgiving and gratitude to improve the quality of your life.

Dr. Phil House is a clinical psychologist and clinical director at Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch. He can be reached at


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