Nice piece on gratitude, and how remembering the things to be thankful for, rather than only focussing on the negative, makes a difference for physical and mental health.
This is distinct from blind positive thinking; one of my coping mechanisms has been to be thankful what I have (warm, supportive family, good medical team, strong benefits plan) and what I have not (in cancer, as in other areas, there are always worse cases). Quote:
And they [‘gratitude’ lists, or equivalent notes in diaries] are effective, as a study tracking feelings of thanks and school satisfaction among a group of sixth and seventh graders showed. In the study, 221 children were assigned to write either a daily list of five things they were most grateful for, or of the hassles they experienced, or no list at all. The gratitude group reported greater satisfaction with school three weeks later compared to the other kids, especially those who focused on hassles. That’s a potentially significant benefit since contentment at school is linked to academic performance and dissatisfaction is correlated with antisocial behavior like drinking and drug use. The authors write, “[T]hese findings suggest that gratitude has both immediate and long-term effects on positive psychological functioning.”
And those effects may be self-sustaining to a certain extent as well. One study found that compared to those who didn’t experience extensive thankfulness, grateful people saw the help they received from others as being more costly to the giver and more valuable to themselves. In addition, they also interpreted deeper expressions of kindness and caring from these acts. These perceptions are likely to make people behave more gratefully towards others — since if you perceive the help you receive as being of little worth and primarily the result of self interest, you are less likely to be appreciative.
That may explain why gratefulness is a desirable trait in friends and colleagues, and why attempts to become more grateful can be an important part of improving many relationships.
So while it’s easy to focus on grievances during the hectic holiday season, try introducing a little gratefulness instead. Sure, there may be a bit of selfishness in that, since you may be motivated primarily to improve your own health, but it turns out that gratitude can change your perspective — in a contagious way that may ultimately help more than just you alone.