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Reflecting on the Benefits of Being Grateful

Malleana Ruffin
November 30, 2021
Malleana Ruffin
November 30, 2021

Thanksgiving 2021 shaped up to be far different than Thanksgiving 2020. We have lifted restrictions on travel and the things we can do in the District. Considering the shift we all have endured from 2019 to now, we should be very grateful!  

When we were physically distanced, it was the small things that mattered most to us during Giving Season, like a smile, a meal, a nap, or a neighbor who looked after pets. Reflecting on those small acts of kindness gives the brain a break and a new focus. That’s what makes the difference to your happiness! 

As we begin to celebrate 2021’s holiday season, new threats – real and perceived – loom large. The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the supply chain, making some items scarce, and those things we can find cost more. Rather than lessening, our anxiety levels are similar or higher than a year ago.

A study (What Good Are Positive Emotions in Crises? A Prospective Study of Resilience and Emotions Following the Terrorist Attacks on the United States on September 11th, 2001) done in the weeks following September 11th found that resilient people were less depressed because they were able to experience positive emotions like love and gratitude. When we feel gratitude, areas of the brain light up that are involved with how we regulate emotions and relieve stress, and our brains get a deeper sense of reward from generosity—all qualities that are helpful today.

If that all isn’t enough, practicing gratitude can help you live a quality life.

The health benefits of practicing gratitude are wide-ranging — and maybe even a bit surprising. Research shows that the following activities may enhance your quality of life. An easy-to-remember acronym, HEART, has been suggested by the American Heart Association to help us all remember the steps to a grateful lifestyle:

  • Health: Think of what your body allowed you to do today. Maybe your feet enabled you to walk around the house or your arms allow you to hold a pet you love.
  • Eat: What nourishment did you provide your body today? What was your favorite meal?
  • Activity: Did you do something today that you really enjoyed? Take a moment to reflect on and savor it.
  • Relationship: Did you see or talk to someone today who brings you joy? Or are you planning to see someone on a video chat who fits that description? (Remember: The person in the mirror counts.)
  • Time: There’s no time like the present. Allow yourself to be grateful for the fact that you’re here.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that people who practice gratitude are:

  • More generous and helpful
  • More likely to offer emotional support
  • More likely to share their possessions
  • More willing to forgive others

Here is a tool you might find helpful.

Thnx4.org is a gratitude journaling platform that teaches people how to strengthen habits of gratitude and in turn enjoy the science-backed benefits of feeling and expressing gratitude.

Thnx4.org was created by the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) at the University of California, Berkeley. It draws on decades of rigorous research showing that being more grateful predicts:

  • Better health, reduced risk of heart disease, and more restful sleep
  • Stronger feelings of social connection and relationship satisfaction
  • More satisfaction with life, more joy and optimism, and less anxiety
  • Increased motivation and productivity in school and at work

Gratitude is a choice that is yours to make. How often you practice gratitude is up to you, just like exercise. Some days, the effort it takes might be more than you can handle. But as reluctant exercisers know, it feels so much better after you do it, even when you thought it wouldn’t!

How do you plan to participate in 2021’s giving season?

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