In the glow of the Thanksgiving holiday, I’ve been reflecting a lot on gratitude. It’s something I talk a lot about in my work and, very recently, have had many “research opportunities” (aka – darn tough personal challenges!) in which I’ve been adding to the science.
More and more research points to the power of gratitude. I find it comforting and empowering to know that how we engage ourselves in life makes a difference. Personal reflection—including reminding oneself of personal strengths and values (especially when faced with difficulties), taking time to feel pride in personal accomplishments, pausing to recognize the little things in life one has to be thankful for, etc.—goes a long way in turning a bad or so-so day into a better one. And of course, expressing sincere appreciation to others—recognizing not just what they do but who they are as unique individuals—creates an ‘upward spiral’ of positive energy that can influence both personal and team dynamics.
As I was driving on Thanksgiving day, I noticed a young girl sitting on the side of the highway. She was leaning against the guardrail with her head between her knees. There was no sign of any broken down car…simply, a young girl who looked alone and in despair. I couldn’t help but wonder who this girl was and what pain she was experiencing. What if just one person reached out to let her know she was valued, cared for, and loved? How might her Thanksgiving feel just a little brighter, even in the darkest of circumstances?
Growing research shows that sustained feelings of gratitude have real, tangible benefits, including:
- Biochemical changes – Favorable changes in the body’s biochemistry include improved hormonal balance and an increase in production of DHEA, the “anti-aging hormone.”
- Increased positivity – Daily gratitude exercises can bring about a greater level of positive feelings, according to researchers from the University of Miami and the University of California, Davis who studied this process in 157 individuals over 13 days.
- Boost to the immune system – The IgA antibody, which serves as the first line of defense against pathogens, increases in the body.
- Emotional “compound interest” – The accumulated effect of sustained appreciation and gratitude is that these feelings, and coherence, are easier to recreate with continued practice. This is because experiencing an emotion reinforces the neural pathways of that particular emotion as it excites the brain, heart and nervous system.
Now who doesn’t want more of that?! 🙂
My wish for you is that you are compassionate with yourself and others and are purposeful in noticing and savoring those things for which you are thankful. I also hope that you find ways to create your own upward spiral of positive emotion by expressing heartfelt appreciation to others – not just for what they do but for who they are as special beings. Although I was not in a position to pull off of the highway to help the young girl on the road, I did call to make sure she received the support she needed. I hope she knows that a stranger cares, values her painful yet human experience (whatever it may be), and wishes her happier days ahead.