By Dr. Paul Mullen
Every year at this time, we focus our attention on the deliberate act of giving thanks. To do so is appropriate, it seems, given the pending fall holiday and Christmas season that follows. But did you know that expressing gratitude is associated with both physical and mental health benefits? Indeed, research studies over the past decade have confirmed what we’ve long known to be true – those who make a habit of expressing thanks also report higher levels of life satisfaction and happiness. Further, being thankful seems to have an additional effect, inoculating us against the future stress of life’s challenges.
This is very much in keeping with the tenants of Positive Psychology. This growing and encouraging branch of our field takes the approach that rather than minimizing suffering, our field ought to encourage thriving. Telling people what they need to knock off is inherently negative, while encouraging a specific target behavior is additive, positive.
The key to maximizing the potential value of increased gratitude is in making it routine, habitual. I like the idea of making this focus part of a daily routine. I never forget to brush my teeth at night, for example, so how about pairing that activity with it? Imagine the impact of just two minutes each day dedicated to dental AND mental health! Another idea that comes to mind is pairing this act with a cue that is encountered on an intermittent basis throughout our day. We all know how many children see a Volkswagen Beetle on the road as an excuse to punch their sibling. How about the more proactive tradition of expressing gratitude every time we see a MINI Cooper on the road?!
However you do it, make it a priority. Don’t give up on Thanks when you finish off the last of the turkey and stuffing leftovers. Gratitude need not be seasonal! The regular expression of thanks leads to happy (holi)days throughout the year.