Gratitude suffers from a severe lack of exposure. Since the 19th century, the attitude of thankfulness has taken a nosedive. How do we know this? Statistics show that in the past the word gratitude was used in books and other published works far more than it is today. If no one is writing about it, we’re probably not talking about it, either. As it turns out, a lack of gratitude affects your health – literally.
Taken from the Latin word gratus, this feeling of appreciation and thankfulness affects your mind and body in measurable ways. Camille Preston, Ph.D., explored the neurobiology of expressing gratitude; she reported that mind and body react differently when experiencing gratitude or resentment. When researchers looked at heart and brain MRIs, they found that “when gratitude was expressed, the average heart rate was lower than during moments of resentment. Moreover, during gratitude interventions, the parts of the brain that regulate anxiety and depression were positively impacted.” Those with a thankful temperament are more likely to have a stronger immune system and even sleep better.
In other words, your mental health produces tangible physical changes in your body.
Speaking of mental health, “the U.S. is one of the most depressed countries in the world, ranking third for depressive disorders, just after China and India,” according to U.S. News & World Report. But do we need a news magazine to tell us what we can see all around? National Center for Health statistics show that more than 12% of Americans take one pharmaceutical or another to treat depression. That number exploded by 64% between 1999 and 2014. A naturally happy group, we are not.
The Root of Our Misery
Inexplicably, as mentioned, the United States ranks third for depression while Bangladesh comes in ninth. As well, aging expert Anthony Cirillo noticed that one habitat where gratitude is found in abundance is – of all places – nursing homes. “You would think that seniors in nursing homes, faced with medical ailments, loneliness and more, would be miserable and angry. Some are. Most are not,” he opined. Cirillo surmised that gratitude is more prevalent in a senior community because “[t]hey have come to peace with their life, and the very fact of just being alive gives them pause to be grateful every single day.”
In contrast, ingrates are more likely to navel-gaze, seek control of the uncontrollable, and ask broad questions like “Who am I, and why am I here?” This only serves to suck the joy out of life’s simple things. Ultimately, this attitude leads to a mental health spiral of worry, anxiety, and fear — and the need to pop a happy pill.
Real depression does exist, and it should not be belittled in any way. But those without a chemical imbalance may be plummeting into a negative space unnecessarily simply by lack of gratefulness.
The internet is overrun with lists on how to become a more grateful person, ranging from living in the moment to giving yourself the occasional word of praise instead of criticism. However, as with most things psychological, one has to recognize the problem first. So take stock: Do you consider yourself a grateful person, thankful for what you have and joyful despite circumstances? If so, go ahead and pat yourself on the back; if not, maybe it’s time to re-charge your thanksgiving meter. Thursday just might be a good day to begin a new attitude of gratitude instead of arguing with Aunt Ethel over politics.
Read more from Leesa K. Donner.