The approaching Christmas season is a time for relaxation, delicious food, and exciting new gifts. But before Santa comes by in his sleigh, it’s important to take a moment to be grateful for what we already have. Gratitude is about shifting our focus from what our lives lack to all of the great things that are already present. Choosing to live gratefully has a range of benefits for our happiness, health, and social life too.
Thinking about what is going well in your life has the power to change your mood instantly, and so it makes sense that being grateful makes you happier. A 2003 study by the University of California and Southern Methodist University found that being grateful has a strong impact on your personal outlook. Researchers split participants into three groups and analysed how regular writing tasks affected their lives. Some had to write about what they were grateful for, some had to write about struggles, and some had to write about neutral things. The results of the study indicated that a conscious focus on being grateful leads to increased levels of optimism, alertness, enthusiasm, determination, and energy. It improves happiness, reduces stress, and helps with progress towards achieving personal goals.
Being grateful can also improve your physical health. A range of studies have shown that grateful people have lower levels of depression, healthier hearts, and better overall health. They have less difficulty sleeping, and are more likely to partake in healthy behaviours, seek help for health-related concerns, and participate in physical activity.
Research has shown that gratitude can help you to make friends and keep them. Being grateful is more than being aware of your blessings – it is also about acknowledging what others do for you and helping them to feel good in the process. Clearly expressing your gratitude results in positive perceptions of your character and helps you to develop connections with other people.
Gratitude should not be just a reaction to getting what you want, but an ongoing practice of focusing on the positive. Being grateful this Christmas season is therefore about more than saying thank you for gifts. Encourage your family to take note of the good that is already present in your lives. Appreciate the small things. And when problems arise, keep them in perspective. To say we feel grateful is not to say that everything in our lives is perfect. It simply means we are happy with what we do have.
Alexandra Sifferlin, Time, 2015. Why Being Thankful Is Good for You.