By Eirish Sison
Giving thanks takes center stage during the holidays. The day that starts the season is, after all, called Thanksgiving. But taking the time to say "thank you" and remembering all the things you're grateful for isn't just an exercise in good manners — it also helps fight depression, relieve stress, improve sleep quality and even rekindle your romance. Here are 6 surprising reasons to give thanks for what you've got, even after the holidays are over.
If your to-do list keeps getting longer and longer and you can't seem to catch a break, being grateful can mitigate some of the negative effects of stress. A scholarly article published in 2007 in the Journal of Research in Personality describes two studies that showed that gratitude could lead to decreased levels of stress over time. The researchers looked at college students entering university for the first time — definitely the right group to study when it comes to stress! — and found that those who reported being more grateful at the beginning of the semester had more social support and lower levels of stress and depression by the end of it.
Instead of counting sheep, try listing off all of the things you're grateful for. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research surveyed 401 participants and found that those who reported being more grateful also said they slept better and longer, took less time to fall asleep and were less sleepy during the day.
Track how gratitude helps you catch more Zzz's with our free online sleep tracker!
Expressing gratitude can also help inject a little more romance into your relationship. A study published in the journal Personal Relationships found that feeling and expressing thankfulness had a positive impact on committed relationships. The positive effect was seen in as little as one day after expressing gratitude! Just the simple act of being genuinely appreciative of the little things your partner does — as opposed to feeling indebted to him or her — could give your relationship a boost.
Need a quick mood lift? Try saying "thank you," or better yet, think of a person who has positively influenced your life lately and take the time to write him or her a note of gratitude. In a study, students who did that felt much happier and were more satisfied with their lives. In fact, the more letters they wrote, the happier they felt, which could indicate that expressing gratitude can actually put you in a better mood. So what are you waiting for? Pick up a pen and get writing. You're sure to boost the recipient's mood, too!
Not only can gratitude improve your mood, but there is some evidence that it can even help prevent certain psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety. One study review, published in 2003, found that "religiously oriented thankfulness" was correlated to a "signiﬁcantly lower risk of major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, phobia, nicotine dependence, alcohol dependence, and drug 'abuse' or dependence." According to the review, gratitude seems to be important for psychological well-being and an overall sense of happiness. A second study performed over 10 years with more than 5,500 subjects initially aged 55-56 years old found that those with a low sense of well-being were over 7 times more likely to be diagnosed with depression 10 years later. Even later in life, being more grateful could make you less prone to depression.
Research has shown that being grateful can also influence your physical well-being. In a study published in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, students were asked to write 10 weekly "gratitude lists" of five things that made them feel grateful for that week. Compared to the students who were asked to write down weekly lists of "hassles" and students tasked with listing events that just "had an impact" on them, the ones who made gratitude lists reported fewer symptoms of physical illness and more hours of exercise.
Eirish Sison is a health writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Published December 6, 2011.