The holidays are right around the corner. ‘Tis the season to be jolly—so why is it that we sometimes feel melancholy during the most wonderful time of the year? The truth is, the time between Thanksgiving and New Years’ Eve can be a demanding time for many reasons. Between spending an extended amount of time with relatives, last-minute gift shopping, and experiencing higher rates of social media-related stress, it’s no wonder that teens might develop a case of the holiday blues.
While there are many good ways to manage your stress, one quick, easy, and often-overlooked antidote to holiday overload is practicing gratitude. By taking a little bit of time out of your day to reflect on all the positives in your life, you can reduce overwhelm and boost your mood. Here are 7 scientifically proven benefits of a formal gratitude practice.
Why Is It Important to Give Thanks?
1. Practicing gratitude helps you strengthen your relationships.
According to a 2015 study published in Emotion, old-fashioned good manners and a simple “thank you” can help you win new friends. The simple act of thanking a new acquaintance can make them more likely to want to develop a friendship.
It makes sense, too: think back to the last time someone was warm, friendly and thoughtful to you. Didn’t it make you feel warm and fuzzy inside?
Whether you thank your Starbucks barista for adding extra whipped cream to your holiday beverage or thank a classmate for going the extra mile on a group project, acknowledge other people’s contributions. It could very well open the door to new opportunities.
2. Practicing gratitude helps you develop better self-esteem.
According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, researchers found that gratitude enhances an athlete’s self-esteem and trust. Self-esteem allows you to handle setbacks more easily. When you feel confident and capable, you’re more apt to do well in sports, in school, and in social situations.
If you’re on social media, you’ve likely felt a twinge of FOMO or jealousy while scrolling another user’s feed. Indonesian psychology researchers found evidence that gratitude can be a protective factor against the negative effects of social comparison. Rather than becoming more self-conscious or resentful toward people who appear to live happier lives, those who regularly give thanks are more likely to appreciate others’ achievements.
3. Practicing gratitude helps promote resilience.
If you had a traumatic experience in childhood or in the recent past, you may find this information valuable: A study of Vietnam War veterans with PTSD revealed that trauma survivors who practiced gratitude had more happy days, more motivation, and better self-esteem than veterans who didn’t. A 2009 literature review found that, despite the anger, sadness, fear, and anxiety following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, gratitude was a major contributor to resilience.
Recognizing all the positive things in your life—even during high-stress times like the holidays—helps you build resilience. Our resilience helps us stay flexible and adaptable so that we can bounce back when things don’t go as planned. Life is full of ever-changing circumstances, so the earlier you can build your resilience, the better off you’ll be.
4. Practicing gratitude helps you improve your mental well-being.
Gratitude amplifies the good vibes while helping to clear out the toxic ones.
A 2017 study uncovered two huge advantages to practicing gratitude: First, gratitude was a better predictor of hope and happiness than other constructs, including forgivingness, patience, and self-control. Second, when participants were instructed to reflect on something they were grateful for, they saw significant increases in hope and happiness.
5. Practicing gratitude helps you improve your physical health, too.
While those who practice gratitude generally have better social and mental health outcomes, you might be surprised to learn that gratitude also leads to a wide range of physical health benefits.
Every time you give thanks, you diminish anxiety and stressful feelings, allowing for better physical health. Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis and a leading scientific expert on the science of gratitude, says “The practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life. It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep.”
A 2012 literature review published in Personality and Individual Differences found that grateful people report feeling healthier than other people. They have a greater propensity for physical exercise, report fewer aches and pains, and are more willing to seek help for health concerns.
6. Practicing gratitude helps to boost empathy and reduce anger.
Sometimes, life feels unfair. You get a grade that you think you didn’t deserve, or someone treats you unkindly, and you can develop feelings of anger and resentment. When we feel attacked or cornered, it’s not uncommon to feel upset.
But according to a 2011 literature review by researchers at the University of Kentucky, grateful people are less likely to hold a grudge or seek revenge against those who wronged them. You’re more likely to express empathy, or sensitivity and concern for others.
Another study found that more gratitude leads to higher emotional intelligence. The more that you respect and appreciate others, the less likely you’ll be inclined toward finding reasons to become angry.
7. Practicing gratitude helps you get better sleep.
Finally, we all know that getting poor quality or too little sleep can have serious mental health consequences. When you’re going through a hard time in your family or social life, your racing thoughts can keep you up at night.
The next time this happens, try spending 5 to 10 minutes reflecting on a few things that went well in the past week. According to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, keeping a gratitude journal can actually help improve your sleep quality.
How Can I Start Practicing Gratitude?
Making time to feel thankful is the simplest and quickest way to improve your mood. There are so many ways you can increase your gratitude, but just like starting any habit, it takes time to establish and stick with.
Thankfully, you don’t need extreme willpower or discipline to set aside a few minutes to give thanks. You just need to build it into your routine—and the best way to establish a new habit is to piggy-back it onto an existing habit, which makes it easier to remember (and makes it far more likely that you’ll actually do it).
1. Start a gratitude journal.
You can start practicing gratitude inwardly. Whether you have an iPhone or Android, there are a handful of gratitude journal apps you can download. Set a daily reminder to reflect on the good things—we’d recommend sitting down with your gratitude journal in the evenings. (This tends to be a good time because your day has slowed down, plus you have a 12-hour block from which to highlight your points of gratitude.)
Try these convenient evening times:
- After finishing your last homework assignment
- On your nighttime walk
- After you’ve finished washing the dishes
- Right after brushing your teeth
And remember that practicing gratitude can be as simple or complex as you want. You can write 3 lines about what you were grateful for, or you can write 3 pages’ worth of gratitude.
- I’m grateful for the way my dog greets me at the door when I come home every day.
- I’m grateful on Veterans Day for our military personnel and their family.
- I’m grateful for all the pumpkin-/chocolate mint-/cinnamon-apple flavored treats that circulate around fall and winter.
- I’m grateful for this cozy, fluffy bathrobe that I got for Christmas.
- I’m grateful for my heart and its mettle.
2. Commit to saying thanks to others.
When you’re ready, you can begin practicing gratitude outwardly. It may seem small, but recognizing someone else’s efforts is a great way to show them you appreciate them.
- Did someone hold open the door for you? Say thank you.
- Did the chef prepare a delicious meal for dinner? Send your compliments.
- Did your family member do your laundry for you? Let them know you appreciated it.
The next time you experience another person’s kindness at home, a restaurant, a grocery store, or the mall—thank them for it. And be specific. The more you pay attention to details, the more you’ll begin noticing the positive things in your life.
3. Send a virtual care package.
Everyone says they want to keep in touch, but it’s easy to get carried away doing all the other things in life. Make someone feel special by reaching out with a virtual care package of silly photos and videos that will spark a smile. It’s the next best thing to giving a hug—and you can celebrate all the warm feelings of past moments to create a better present day.
4. Share your message of appreciation with your neighbors.
From the hospital to the grocery stores, your local heroes deserve a special thank-you. Teachers, nurses and doctors, bus drivers, and yes, your Amazon delivery person, are all dedicated and committed to making sure you’re safe and well taken care of. Show them your support by posting thank you signs in your window, on your door, or right on your front lawn.
5. Find a way to give back.
What matters most to you?
Do you feel strongly about keeping your community clean? Plan a day to grab a few trash bags, don some protective gear, and clean up litter in your neighborhood. It’s a great way to get outside and get some fresh air while also giving back.
Are you passionate about abolishing hunger? Check out the individual volunteer opportunities at your local food bank. You can donate food, or you can donate your time to help distribute food.
Do you have a creative streak? Workers on the front lines in health care can use a morale boost. Try making cards or bringing flowers for the staff who are in the hospital to help cheer them up.
Spending the holidays in a socially distanced format can be hard, but we all can cultivate gratitude. Rather than focus on the things you wish you had, take a few moments to remember everything you already have. This holiday season, remember to breathe, take plenty of breaks, and develop an “attitude of gratitude” to improve your quality of life.