Gratitude can increase health and personal well-being

Article by Amy Greil, community natural resource and economic development educator, Kenosha and Racine Counties
Originally published in the Kenosha News.

As we have enjoyed another Thanksgiving holiday, I thought it fitting to explore what research tells us about gratitude.

More than a time of year, Thanksgiving is shown to be a key component to personal well-being and a hearty sense of connection to community.

I found an article from the Journal of Psychological Inquiry titled “Savoring Life, Past and Present” that suggests cognitive habits have a lot to do with gratitude — and hopefulness for that matter.

Indeed, gratitude constructs can produce measures of health and well-being, and so, these are worthy of a little extra consideration.

Goal orientation

Whereas some people typically appraise goal pursuits — even very arduous ones — as challenges that are accompanied by optimism, others people appraise these as threats that are accompanied by an unpleasant direness.

Grateful people not only seem to enjoy the psycho-social benefits that come from their increased likelihood of obtaining their goals, but they also appear to enjoy the very act of striving for goals to be realized in the future much more than not-so-grateful folks.

The author is led to think that grateful people may be particularly attentive to the fact that the very pursuit of goals in itself brings meaning and purpose to their lives.

For such people, these kinds of pursuits in and of themselves — independent of whether the goals themselves are reached — can be savored rather than simply endured.

Being a beneficiary

There is also something to be said for the cognitive-affective response to the recognition that one has been the beneficiary of someone else’s goodwill.

In fact, one of the key psychological processes governing gratitude may be an awareness of how one’s very life is held together through the benevolent actions of other people.

We can train ourselves to appreciate that we live in a society in which we benefit from many services, innovations, institutions, arts and culture that people whom we have never even met have made available for us to use and enjoy.

Grateful people attend to the benefits in their lives, and they are mindful that these benefits did not come out of nowhere.

Connectedness

Gratitude also correlates highly with nonconventional measures of what we can call spirituality, including measures that assess our sense of connectedness to nature, other people and the universe as a whole.

The author thinks these correlations are important because they point to the ability of grateful people to pay attention to the ways in which their lives are connected to other events and activities occurring in the social, natural and (for some people) supernatural world.

What matters to me is that our sense of community can actually be enhanced when we see our basic connection to — and reliance on — others.

Putting it all together

Maybe I’m making this harder than it needs to be, or maybe this really is a healthy reminder about gratitude and giving.

If indeed gratitude is correlated positively with many measures of psychological well-being, including vitality, satisfaction with life and a heightened sense of community, then let’s share the love … and the leftovers.