America celebrates Thanksgiving on November 22nd this year. I have lived in the USA for over 22 years and can honestly say it is the one time of year that America takes a deep breath, gathers with family and friends and takes a day off. Even if family relationships are fractious, the intake of breath the county takes is noticeable. Given this week is about giving thanks, it got me thinking about the role of gratitude, a close sibling of thanks and how the evidence is growing about its essential role in health, mental health, and behavior change.
In recent times, wellness programs and healthcare have started to focus on gratitude as a practice and as a tool to support health and wellness. Earlier this year, the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley published a white paper on the science of gratitude, on behalf of the John Templeton Foundation.
Is Gratitude the Social Glue that Binds?
Gratitude is many things; it may be how you feel when a family member or friend is consistently there to assist in hard times. It may be something we experience on an individual and collective level; the latter often experienced as part of religious or spiritual practice communities. Gratitude is also a social construct that is seen in the animal kingdom, specifically in primates- for example; studies have shown chimpanzees are more likely to share food with other chimpanzees who have helped with grooming, so it isn’t uniquely human.
The science of gratitude is relatively new, and many papers have been published over the past twenty years. As a field of study, this can make it difficult to evaluate the concept of gratitude as many of the reviews are small, so caution is advised in how generalizable the results are.
Neuroscience has shed light on parts of the brain activated when humans are expressing gratitude; the authors point out that gratitude is an intrinsic part of our experience as humans and warrants more in-depth evaluation. Work is underway to shed light on how gender, personality, cognitive factors may influence how intensely individuals experience gratitude. Early data also suggests that gratitude is good for our health, one study in cardiac patients who kept an eight-week “gratitude journal” showed that those who expressed more gratitude were more likely to sleep better, have more energy and show lower levels of inflammation.
Data also show a link between gratitude and well-being and “gratitude practices” are being increasingly incorporated into mental health and wellness programs as studies suggest individuals are happier, less materialistic and less likely to experience burnout if they practice gratitude via journalling.
If we think of how we live our lives today, we can certainly point to barriers to being grateful which include: materialism, narcissism, and cynicism. It even seems that these barriers are globally present, so understanding how to enhance being grateful seems prudent for the collective well-being of humans. However, you celebrate Thanksgiving in the USA, enjoy it and be well.
Thanks for reading – Trina
(My opinions are my own)
Greater Good Science Center White Paper on Gratitude