What do you do if you’re struggling with depression, anxiety, or some traumatic event and gratitude is the last thing you are feeling? Should you sit out on this holiday of thanks? Without making light of your real emotions, condition, or life-situation, there is scientific evidence that shows how choosing to focus on what you are grateful for increases feelings of pleasure, well-being, and happiness. It’s science and it’s doable by just about anyone.
The title of my post is a question recently posed by New York Times writer, Arthur C. Brooks. His article, in which he asks if it’s good or right to “rebel” against what we authentically feel, has several points about the power and effect of gratitude, which I feel are important enough to repeat and discuss here.
Pondering What You Are Grateful for Increases Life Satisfaction
Brooks brings up an experiment that required different groups of people to create nightly lists. One group wrote down what they were thankful for. Another jotted down hassles. And a third kept their list filled with neutralities. What did the researchers find after ten weeks? The grateful group had a higher sense of well-being. They also concluded that the results of this and other like-studies suggest that consciously focusing on blessings has emotional and interpersonal advantages.
Smiling Prompts the Brain to Process Positive Emotion
Acting happy, no matter how you feel, actually causes your brain to activate positive emotions. This is proved by a well-known study where people were told to force a smile for 20 seconds. Afterward, researchers found that indeed the smilers’ brain activity was associated with positivity. Although it’s cliché, “Fake it til’ you make it” in this scenario are wise words. Faking a smile will actually cause you to authentically feel like smiling.
Expressing Thankfulness Causes Feelings of Pleasure
Another study shows how expressing gratitude physically stimulates key parts of the brain like the hypothalamus and ventral tegmental area, which in turn generates feelings of pleasure. So the next time you tell your wife or husband, friends, or co-workers, “Thank you,” expect real feelings of pleasure and thankfulness to follow.
Choosing to Be Grateful Positively Affects Others
A fourth study by USC demonstrates that showing gratitude to people in positions of power with quick tempers actually turns around their negative conduct and feelings of anger. So, being thankful doesn’t just help with your personal happiness, it also spreads the joy to others. And think about what that will do for you. Seeing how you’ve uplifted another person will only increase your own happiness, starting a brilliant cycle of satisfaction and contentment.
As you can see, if we want a life filled with peace and happiness, it is imperative for us to not be swept by the current of each emotion we feel but to instead actively fight the negative urges and instincts common to humanity. That’s right, I want you to fight for the good and negate the bad. In a time when such immense value is placed on authenticity (and most often for good reason), it may seem like we’re being “fake” or unfaithful to our true selves if we practice gratitude when we least feel like doing so. But these scientifically proven reasons show how fighting to be grateful is worth your effort and isn’t a façade you are shamming.
So, take heart. Practice mindfulness and gratitude, even when you feel real feelings of sadness, numbness, or anger. It won’t take away problems, but it will make your day and heart a little lighter. Thanksgiving is for all of us, even you and me.