English writer G. K. Chesterton penned: “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”
If you are capable of thankful thoughts, you are elevating your thinking to its highest possible form. And “happiness doubled by wonder” sounds like a pretty great state to achieve. There are no downsides to being grateful. It helps you keep perspective of what you have already and stop wanting more. Gratitude fills the void of want.
Being grateful has emotional benefits as well. In a study from England, 156 undergraduate freshmen students were surveyed at the beginning and end of their first semester at college about gratitude, perceived social support, depression, and stress. The first semester at college can be stressful. Students are no longer surrounded by family, they are dealing with new social and academic situations, and have to navigate this adult world alone, likely for the first time. This study looked at whether students who had high levels of perceived social support, or low levels of depression or stress led to higher levels of gratitude or whether gratitude led to changes in the other factors. None of these factors led to gratitude, but gratitude led to the development of social support during this stressful transition to college and led to improved levels of stress and depression. A second study attempted to replicate the first one with 87 first year undergraduate students, but added the Big Five personality traits (extroversion, agreeableness, neurotics, openness to experience, and conscientiousness) to see if those impacted the results. Maybe the previous results had been because the students were extroverts. It turns out that gratitude is a larger factor than even personality. The results of study 2 showed that gratitude led to lower stress and depression levels and higher levels of tangible and appraisal social support above the effect of the Big Five personality traits.
Research also shows gratitude is good for marriage. Gratitude from marital interactions acts as a “booster shot for the relationship” increasing the relationship connection and satisfaction and communal strength. Gratitude can help with sleep quality and duration. Gratitude may even be the antidote for materialism and the unhappiness and negative psychological effects materialism causes.
In order to sleep better, be less stressed and depressed, increase my social support, strengthen my marriage, and protect myself from materialism, I am offering my gratitude for everything. We are so lucky to have so much. We were raised by wonderful families, we won the demographics lottery which allows us to work toward early retirement, and we have three healthy, wonderful children who motivate us every day to put family first.
In our house, we have a “grateful journal.” At dinner every evening, we each write down what we were thankful for that day. Sometimes the answers are silly. Sometimes poignant. The first day we started the journal (a year and a half ago), 3-year old Florin said she was “grateful for that I danced at my pretend party and broke my pretend video camera made out of snow and ice” (yes, I write down even the grammatical errors, because they are adorable) and Penny was grateful for the “beautiful sunshine! There were no clouds! And that we got to play outside for awhile. We played house.” No one is allowed to repeat the same thing someone has already said that day. This has been a great exercise for us and our children. Some days, when the kids are sick, they’re grateful for watching movies or not being more sick. But even on those days, when it’s hard to come up with something, it helps to change the perspective from negative to positive. And it helps us all look for things throughout the day we enjoy because we know we’ll be reporting back at dinner. And we have a record of nearly 500 blessings we each have we can look back through when we are struggling. We’ve literally filled a book with our blessings!
This Thanksgiving, for your health and happiness, remember to actually give thanks. And though it’s cheesy and insincere-sounding, I am grateful for you. This community is wonderful and I’m grateful to have you in my corner. Happy Thanksgiving!