what does it mean to be Thankful?
We have all experienced that warm feeling when we realize how Thankful we are for something in our lives. Scientific research is finally showing what we, as humans, have known to be true for thousands of years- it feels good to be Thankful. In fact, our overall wellness is vastly improved by the simple, yet powerful, act of being Thankful.
In the process of illuminating how research now supports the essential human quality of being Thankful, it is important to understand 'Thankful’ as a term. A large growing body of psychology and neuroscience research has been conducted on gratitude. In this literature, gratitude is typically defined as "the quality of being Thankful." Both in definitional terms and in scientific literature, thankfulness and gratitude are considered practically synonymous.
To be Thankful is to experience a feeling of gratitude, and to be grateful is to experience a feeling of thankfulness. As such, all further mentions of gratitude research inherently describe thankfulness as well.
Thankful improves our own individual health. Studies show that gratitude boosts our mood, improves our sleep, enhances our relationships, and supports our immune system.
Further studies have shown that thankfulness strengthens relationships and communities. Neuroscience indicates that when a person experiences the feeling of being grateful through positive psychology, the networks in the brain associated with understanding others' perspectives, interpersonal touch, and cultivating empathy are activated.
Being thankful is scientifically shown to augment mental health & overall wellness
Studies show thankfulness is associated with:
Increased attention, mood, energy, connectedness, optimism, sleep quality, and metabolism.
Decreased physical ailments, pain, depression, anxiety, and stress.
Research shows thankfulness changes brain circuitry and functioning (activates reward system and regulates stress response)
Ellie Cobb Ph.D.
Director of Psychology
why is being Thankful important for our well-being?
Practicing the act of feeling Thankful is a simple, yet vitally impactful tool, which has been shown in both ancient philosophy and scientific research to support our well-being. In fact, recent research has linked gratitude with extensive physical and mental health benefits, both for the individual and for the community.
First, being Thankful improves our own individual health. Studies show that gratitude boosts our mood, improves our sleep, enhances our relationships, and supports our immune system. The regions of the brain associated with moments of gratitude are part of the neural networks that activate when we experience pleasure. Furthermore, these areas in the brain are strongly connected to regions of the brain that process stress and regulate emotions. Therefore, not only does being Thankful enhance our mood, it decreases our stress. Cultivating thankfulness in our lives is immensely impactful for our own well-being and functioning overall.
Second, thankfulness strengthens relationships and communities. Neuroscience indicates that when a person experiences the feeling of being grateful, the networks in the brain associated with understanding others' perspectives, interpersonal touch, and cultivating empathy are activated. This means that experiencing thankfulness enhances human connectivity. Not only does thankfulness improve human connection, it strengthens community. Positive psychology research shows that expressions of gratitude create positive moments for others, which increase the likelihood of that act of thankfulness being paid forward. Thankfulness as a positive human emotion spreads, creating a lasting ripple effect through communities.
how does one become Thankful?
The act of being Thankful is a practice. Neuroscience has shown differences in the brains of those who regularly cultivate the act of gratitude and those who do not. Those who regularly cultivate the act of being Thankful show greater neural sensitivity in the region of the brain associated with decision making and learning, which perpetuates a more intentional cultivation of ongoing thankfulness. Thus, our brains learn to become more naturally Thankful as we intentionally practice. Furthermore, research indicates that the positive effects of thankfulness actually increase over time and practice. Studies show there is a cumulative effect of being Thankful. The more gratitude we bring into our lives, the more wellness benefits we will experience.
Thankful Moments make for impactful change
Gratitude affirms goodness. When we notice what there is to be Thankful for in life, our brains and our bodies respond in a positive way. Taking even a moment to be Thankful shifts our brains, shifts our bodies, and even shifts our entire way of relating to the world. We all have the capacity to be wellness advocates, for ourselves and for others, because we can all experience and spread the benefits of gratitude through the practice and act of being Thankful. An individual’s moment of thankfulness enhances wellness, brings us together, and propels more thankfulness into the world.
Quite simply, thankfulness feels good and does good – and now we have the science to show it!