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Learning to Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude

Having a positive outlook is healthy for the body and mind

John Huthmacher Staff Reporter
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Gratitude might be particularly helping during the global pandemic we are currently facing.
- Stephanie Furrer, head of a four-year college psychology department


Learning to foster an attitude of gratitude can be the difference between living life to its fullest and missing out on experiencing true peace of mind.

Indeed, the rewards of positive thinking have long been touted by experts in the medical and mental fields as a means to achieving wellness in both mind and body, giving those who feel grateful a noted advantage over their less-than-appreciative counterparts in all facets of life.

But just how does one reach a place of gratitude in a material-driven society where people live in competition, and keeping up with the Joneses is perceived as a key motivator for achieving true happiness? Health and wellness experts have identified numerous universal benefits present in truly successful and seemingly happy persons that identify links between feeling grateful and realizing positive overall health.

Gratitude Goes Far in Traumatic Situations

Examples include a 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, which found that gratitude increased an athlete’s self-esteem, an essential component to optimal performance. Other studies indicate that gratitude reduces social comparisons. Rather than developing resentment toward people with more money or better jobs, those who are grateful are able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments.

In addition, research bears out that gratitude can aid victims of traumatic experiences. A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Recognizing what you have to be thankful for – even during the worst times in your life – fosters resilience.

How it Benefits Health & Well Being

Stephanie D. Furrer is a Ph.D. who chairs the psychology department at a four-year Midwestern Christian college. She said that by its very definition, gratitude offers those who experience it a psychological break from negative emotions while restoring resources to the mind and body that may have been depleted from stress or trauma. It isn’t surprising, then, she said, that gratitude has become associated with a multitude of positive influences on overall health and well being.

“People who express gratitude through list-making and/or behavioral expressions (like) sending a card or simply contemplating what they are grateful for, have better health, sleep better, and are more likely to exercise and seek medical attention and experience fewer negative emotions,” she said. “Importantly, research suggests that gratitude can mediate the impact of trauma and stress. Gratitude might be particularly helping during the global pandemic we are currently facing.”

Getting in the Habit of Showing Gratitude

Keeping the elements of positivity simple is vital when attempting to achieve a more grateful disposition, Furrer said. As with any learned habit, repetition plays a crucial role in the relearning process.

“To get in the habit, people have to make concerted efforts to express gratitude regularly,” she said. “I suggest a gratitude journal or taking the time to write gratitude notes to others, or just do something helpful for others weekly or monthly.”

While happiness is difficult to quantify, statistics bear out that those who express gratitude daily are far more likely to realize fulfillment than those who strive to achieve success at all costs, she said.

One Way to Overcome Depression

Alex Theesen plays bass and sings for Within Sight, an up-and-coming thrash metal band from Vancouver, Washington. Having struggled with depression much of his life, the longtime musician maintains it has been his attitude of gratitude that has enabled him to stay focused and on task in his daily journey to becoming a wholly supportive member of society.

“I feel you have to find something special in every person you come across,” he said. “Everybody has gone through a lot, and there’s good in everyone. No matter your situation, it’s important to remember that there’s always somebody out there who cares about you.”

Reflecting on Your Long Journey

As he continues to realize his dream of becoming a full-time professional musician, Theesen strives daily to appreciate each step along the way. Reflection can be a powerful tool in helping one realize just how far he or she has come in terms of attaining fulfillment and contentment, he said.

“I’ve gotten to do so many different things over the years,” he said. “I’ve been part of more than 30 different musical projects and 3 tours, and it makes me feel pretty good looking back.

“As I’m getting older, I’m really starting to feel that more so, like through perspective and introspection, you know? Life is actually pretty good. You just have to not focus on the negative so much. The more positive I’ve been, the better the good things happen.”

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Learning to Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude

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