This Thanksgiving, gratitude takes on a new level of poignancy as we reunite with loved ones and hold them tight. Despite everything, there’s still so much to be thankful for.
As it turns out, gratitude can also be a powerful tool to address the workplace mental health crisis.
Gratitude has so many benefits. It has been shown to impact our emotional, physical, medical, and mental well-being. Studies have shown it can make us feel more optimistic and less aggravated. Gratitude can inspire, engage, and reinvigorate even the most downtrodden among us.
So let’s raise our glasses and give a toast to the transformative power of gratitude:
1. Gratitude Alleviates Pain
The mind-body connection is becoming more evident every year. How we think directly influences how we experience sensations, including pain.
A study published in Personality and Individual Differences found that people who are grateful experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than less grateful people.
Other studies show that grateful people tend to take better care of themselves. They exercise more, eat better, and make time for annual health checkups. It may even contribute to improved feelings of wellness which creates motivation to make health a priority again.
2. Gratitude Improves Health
While most studies on gratitude and health rely on self-reported results, one group of researchers set out to determine whether the health benefits of gratitude could be measured objectively. They ran a study of heart failure patients in which half of the patients were asked to keep a gratitude journal and half received treatment as usual.
The researchers reported that biomarkers for heart failure, such as inflammation, were reduced in the gratitude group.
3. Grateful People Sleep Better
Adequate sleep is critical for mental and physical health. Yet so many of us toss and turn all night with troubled thoughts.
In one study, two psychologists asked a group of people to make lists of the things they were thankful for each night. In just three weeks, the study participants said they were getting more sleep and feeling more refreshed in the morning.
This is quite similar to our November gratitude challenge: Be Grateful. Participants list three things they’re grateful for every day. Encourage your employees to try this challenge – they will likely build self-esteem, protect themselves from the negative effects of stress, and definitely sleep better.
4. Grateful People Make Better Choices with Food
For many people, food isn’t simply a way to nourish themselves – it’s a source of comfort for stress, anger, loneliness, anxiety or simply boredom. And this emotional eating can be an incredibly difficult pattern to break. For others, eating is impulsive and mindless – if the food is there, they eat it without thinking about whether they’re actually hungry.
A cognitive scientist that specializes in eating told Time, “Gratitude replenishes willpower.” Thinking about the things you’re grateful for can give you a surge of impulse control. Additionally, the positive mental health effects of gratitude (more on this in a moment) can stave off some of the negative feelings that can lead to emotional eating.
So, this holiday season, slow down and count your blessings. You may realize you’re perfectly full and content after all.
5. Gratitude Can Change Your Brain
Mental health experts associate gratitude with a host of psychological benefits. Studies show being thankful can improve relationships, ease depression, excise toxic emotions (such as envy and resentment), and enhance empathy. Moreover, the positive effects of gratitude are long-lasting.
In a study supported by the Greater Good Science Center at U.C. Berkley, nearly 300 mental health therapy patients were split into three groups. One group was told to write a letter of gratitude to another person once a week for three weeks. Another group was asked to write down their feelings about negative experiences. The third group wrote nothing.
The researchers said that the group that wrote the thank-you notes reported significantly better mental health four weeks and 12 weeks after their writing assignments. And remarkably, when the scientists put some of the study participants in an MRI scanner three months later, they noticed “greater activation in the medial prefrontal cortex” among the letter-writing group.
“While not conclusive, this finding suggests that practicing gratitude may help train the brain to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude down the line,” the scientists wrote.
Fostering Gratitude at Work
If the science is right, gratitude is something we can learn and get better at. And as we do, our minds and bodies improve for the better.
There are a number of ways to help your employees practice gratitude:
- Say “thanks.” When people feel appreciated, they tend to give it right back. Managers should make it a point to let their hardworking team members know how much they’re valued.
- Bring in speakers on thankfulness. For example, you could host a workshop on how to write a daily gratitude journal.
- Encourage mindfulness. Meditation goes hand-in-hand with gratitude.
A culture of gratitude won’t spring up overnight in your workforce, especially, in the current climate. With everything your employees have had to adapt to in the last two years, it can be hard for them to see all the good in their lives. But if you nurture gratitude within your organization, little by little, it will take hold, transforming the health and outlook of your employees.