The idea of Thanksgiving is something that should be practiced year-round. Taking a little time each day to be thankful for what you have isn’t just a sentimental feel-good practice; it’s scientifically shown to improve mental and even physical well-being.
Gratitude is the feeling of being grateful or thankful for something in your life. Most importantly, it’s giving thanks for things outside of yourself and your control. This means that gratitude helps to connect you with the world outside of yourself — and these connections are crucial to your mental health.
Additionally, research has shown that gratitude actually boosts the brain’s production of serotonin and dopamine, the “feel good” hormones that play an important role in your mood.
The Effects of Giving Thanks
Several studies have been completed on the short and long-term effects of gratitude. One, from UC Davis in California, showed that participants who journaled about things they were grateful for felt more optimistic, had more energy and overall felt better after 10 weeks than the control group.
A 2012 study published in “Personality and Individual Differences” suggests that grateful people have fewer aches and pains. A 2011 study published in “Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being” suggests that people who keep gratitude journals sleep more soundly than those who don’t.
These studies and many more prove what people have known for centuries. Just as many of the world’s religions and spiritual practices center around giving thanks, modern gratitude is important — for your own health and for your relationships.
Finding Things to Be Grateful For
If you’re struggling with a chronic illness like HIV, it can be difficult to find things to be grateful for — but that’s why it’s especially important to try.
Consider starting a gratitude journal: Every day, just jot down a few quick lines of what you are grateful for. They don’t need to be huge or dramatic things. In fact, you might find that some of the things that make you happiest are quite simple — like a special song, a beautiful view from a park bench, or sharing a corny inside joke with a friend. It doesn’t matter what it is: If it makes you happy, or if you’re glad to have it in your life, give thanks.
You might be very surprised at how much better you begin to feel each day when you re-frame your life in this way.