Every year, Thanksgiving comes in and envelops us in an aura of gratitude. When the holiday ebbs away and gives place to Christmas and New Year festivities, we often forget to take our gratitude with us. But research over the decades has shown that there’s reasons for us to be thankful throughout the year, not just on a special day. After all, we’ve probably heard our parents, grandparents, or favorite TV personalities say that being thankful means being happy. How much of this statement is true, and how much of it is just cliché?
Two similar studies published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2003 found that gratitude improved people’s emotional well-being and life satisfaction, as well as their amount and quality of sleep.  Participants were divided into 3 groups, who listed their hassles, gratitudes, or neutral life events on a weekly basis (in the first study) or on a daily basis (in the second study). Those in the gratitude group were reported to have helped others more often than those in the other groups.  These results suggest that recording the people and things we are grateful for can enhance our psychological well-being and stimulate prosocial behavior.
A 2006 study published in Psychological Science affirms the research on prosocial behavior, finding that those experiencing gratitude were more likely to help a stranger than those experiencing other emotional states.  This indicates that gratitude can actually motivate us to perform actions that benefit those around us. However, the authors differentiate between the behavior arising from gratitude and the behavior arising from happiness, suggesting that being thankful does not necessarily equate to being content. 
Wood and colleagues’ 2010 review on gratitude, published in Clinical Psychology Review, discusses many studies that furthermore correlate gratitude with decreased risk of psychopathology. Apparently, counting your blessings can reduce your chance of suffering from depression, anxiety, drug or alcohol dependence, and bulimia.  Some of the research discussed in the review even suggests that being thankful is integral to the healing process after trauma.  So gratitude can not only improve positive states, but also reduce or counteract negative ones. The same review also indicates that gratitude may help with relationships, enhancing satisfaction and connection with others. 
Clearly, gratitude can make a large impact in our lives. But what exactly is gratitude and how can we cultivate it?
The traditional definition refers to an emotion that people experience when they are helped in a selfless way. If someone goes out of their way to prop a door open for us or if a loved one buys us something nice, we feel gratitude. However, Wood and colleagues suggest that gratitude is “part of a wider life orientation towards noticing and appreciating the positive in the world.”  You can be thankful for waking up, for a beautiful flower you see on your daily walk, for a positive news story you hear in the evening, etc. And here are ways you can hone your sense of gratitude:
1. Make a weekly list of 5 things you are grateful for in a special journal
2. Write a letter expressing gratitude to a living person and share it with them
3. Meet up with a group of peers on a regular basis, sit in a circle, and take turns saying what you are thankful for
4. Take gratitude walks where you make an effort to notice positive things around you
5. Limit the time you think about the negative things in your life
We shouldn’t have to wait for the fourth Thursday of November to think about what we are thankful for. Gratitude can improve our emotional, psychological, and physical well-being, and it can enhance our relationships with others, so why not cultivate it on a regular basis? Thank you for reading and good luck on your journey to gratitude!
1. “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life.” J Pers Soc Psychol. (2003).
2. “Gratitude and Prosocial Behavior: Helping When It Costs You.” Psychol Sci. (2006).
3. “Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration.” Clin Psychol Rev. (2010).