The FACTS: Positive Effects of Gratitude

The+FACTS%3A+Positive+Effects+of+Gratitude

Kyla Wells, Reporter, Editor

Gratitude is more than just listing what you’re thankful for on Thanksgiving so mom will let you eat your mashed potatoes and gravy. It’s an emotion, a practice, whose value is unsurpassable. The regular practice of gratitude can lead to lasting positive psychological benefits, confirmed by attentive research and studies of positive psychology; the study of individual characteristics, and overarching strengths that allow people and communities to flourish/ prosper. In addition to increasing joy and clarity, the act of gratitude creates a sense of belonging that has the power to unite the nation in times of anguish. 

Bill Brown, a knowledgeable psychology teacher at WPHS, had some insightful input as to the psychological benefits of gratitude.“From what we understand, it [gratitude] is going to release more endorphins in our brain, which is going to bring more joy and happiness… it puts the things that we stress about in their proper perspective.” The consistent act of gratitude has the potential to decrease stress by focusing more on the good things, easing strain on your heart. In addition to releasing endorphins and decreasing stress, gratitude also releases dopamine and serotonin, the two critical neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions. While increasing positive feelings, gratitude simultaneously decreases negative feelings. This quote comes from Madhuleena Roy Chowdhury, who holds a postgraduate in clinical psychology and is a certified psychiatric counselor: “At the neurochemical level, feelings of gratitude are associated with an increase in the neural modulation of the prefrontal cortex, the brain site responsible for managing negative emotions like guilt, shame, and violence. As a result, people who keep a gratitude journal or use verbal expressions for the same, are more empathetic and positive minded by nature.” The brain is an outstandingly complex organ, and there’s much we don’t know about it, but we do know that long-lasting effects of gratitude are achievable by “rewiring” the brain over time to have more optimistic tendencies. 

Now that we’ve explored the importance of gratitude, it’s time to learn about a few ways that you can incorporate it into your daily life. Starting something new, whether it be joining the debate team, or learning to drive a car, can be intimidating. Catharine Becker, who teaches at the high school and is the WELCO (student and staff wellness committee) leader, explained that “The more you practice just saying “Thank you” and thinking of the good things each day that you are grateful for, the easier it becomes. This in turn allows you to then shift your focus and mindset to a more positive outlook.” Many times, gratitude can be found within the littlest luxuries, such as someone opening a door for you. Previously, this would be seen as a mundane gesture, but with an intent to be appreciative, this event can be the highlight of your day and inspire you to do the same for others: beginning a chain of kindness. Some simple ways to practice gratitude include calling a family member to tell them you love them, making a list of positive things in your life, baking someone special cookies, or creating a collage of pictures that evoke appreciation. Gratitude looks different for everyone, so find what’s comfortable for you and begin there. 

It sounds easy enough, but being appreciative can be hard when you’re mentally in a bad space, so it’s tough to recognize that it’s in those times of doubt where gratitude is needed the most. Sara Lee, a valued member of the WPHS community, has recently found solace in gratitude during an exceptionally difficult time in her life. Despite not feeling her best, Mrs. Lee said “Every day I have a choice… I can wake up and go ‘my life sucks, I’m not at work, I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t do this.’ And I’m making a conscious choice every single day to wake up and say ‘I am so thankful I’m taking this first breath. I am so thankful I have leave time at work so I can be home and get better to be the best I can be at work.’” Think of gratitude as a tool whose purpose is to shift your perspective. Instead of detecting the bad, gratitude allows you to focus on the blessings in your life that shouldn’t be overlooked. There is no right or wrong way to be thankful; count your blessings for the lucky penny you found on the ground, or for your best friend, and anything in between. 

Teaching our youth the importance of gratitude can greatly shape the future of our civilization. When asked, “As a mom, do you think it’s important to teach your kids gratitude?” Mrs. Becker responded by saying “ABSOLUTELY!… We very much believe that Karma will come back around. Whatever you are putting out into the world will show back up at your doorstep.” Spreading awareness isn’t as easy as it seems; that’s why Marilyn Price- Mitchell, the author of “The Transformative Power of Gratitude” declares that “In order to teach our children the power of gratitude, they must feel our presence and appreciation each and every day” (para 2). Leading by example is an admirable, effective trait that will help prepare future generations as they begin their journey into adulthood, and ease tension in the world today. 

The year 2020 has been a whirlwind of chaotic, unforeseen events, to say the least. Between the coronavirus, the presidential election, and devastating wildfires, there now seems to be an even bigger crack in society: a disregard for other’s emotions and an overall looming, negative energy. Fixing this fissure soon is crucial, so we don’t gradually become even more divided as a nation. In an article titled “Can Gratitude Make Our Society More Trusting?”, Elizabeth Hopper writes, “In one study, for example, participants who felt grateful to someone for helping them were subsequently willing to spend more time helping someone else. Another study showed that a gratitude writing activity increased people’s willingness to trust others immediately afterward.” These may sound like small impacts, but imagine how quickly they can carry from person to person. Enlighten yourself and those around you by practicing gratitude and feel a weight lifted from your shoulders. 

In summary, being grateful for what you have, and not dwelling on the things you don’t, has countless benefits and should be a part of your daily routine. “Gratitude is a powerful catalyst for happiness. It’s the spark that lights a fire of joy in your soul” (Amy Collette). Not only will it help you achieve a state of joy, but it will help and inspire others to do the same. I encourage each of you to text, call, or send a letter to at least one person today and tell them what you love about them and why you’re thankful that they’re in your life. Get those endorphins flowing and feel the growing fire in your soul!