Shot of a young woman having tea and writing in a notebook on the sofa at home.
Research suggests regularly journaling promotes positive feelings of gratitude.
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UMMC Wellness: Attitude of Gratitude

Published on Monday, November 7, 2022

By: Dr. Seena Haines, professor and director for professional well-being and belonging in the School of Pharmacy

You might not know this but gratitude is an amazing therapeutic superpower. We’ve all been told since childhood to “count your blessings” and to be “grateful for what you have” but the science about the benefits of gratitude is compelling.

Gratitude can have a positive impact on nearly every aspect of our lives. It can enhance our relationships, ward off depression, lighten our daily burdens and lead to a sense of inner peace. It reduces harmful social comparison and thwarts hedonic adaptation. It can improve our physical health, boost our immunity, and perhaps even increase longevity. It has the power to heal, energize, and change lives.

Gratitude emerges from a recognition that the goodness in our lives is made possible by others. When we experience gratitude, we recognize that we have been the recipient of many gifts — unearned and freely given. The gifts in our lives not only come from those closest to us, like our family and friends, but also strangers who have given their time, talent, and money to make our lives better. We have all been the recipients of someone else’s charity, compassion and love. While we each have a powerful influence over our life circumstances, the reality is that we have been the benefactor of so many things not of our making. And gratitude begets more goodness. Those who experience gratitude are more likely to be charitable and kind to others.

Numerous research studies conducted over the past two decades have repeatedly shown the power of gratitude. In one study, health care professionals who were asked to keep a weekly gratitude journal had significant reductions in perceived stress and depressive symptoms. In another study, patients who were suicidal and depressed had dramatically lower feelings of hopelessness and increased levels of optimism after writing a gratitude letter. In yet another study, a gratitude exercise led to improved sleep quality.

You are never too young, too old, too poor, too rich, or too busy to live more gratefully. But its effects are fleeting unless you regularly practice gratitude with attention and intention. If your thoughts are constantly filled with worry, irritation and sadness, the neural networks in your brain will be more conducive to anxiety, anger, and depression. Fill your mind with thoughts of appreciation and thanks and the neural networks will be shaped toward gratitude.

For more information about the benefits of an attitude of gratitude and some ideas on how to build your gratitude muscle, attend the Well-being Grand Rounds: Gratitude is a Therapeutic Superpower on Monday, November 14 from 11:00 a.m.-noon in Classroom 3A (N 318, Old Adult Hospital).