Expressing gratitude has become trendy; these days, you can easily find a stock of gratitude journals and notebooks at your local stationery store or bookseller, or search for tips on how to express gratitude in your life.
As it turns out, all this expression of gratitude is a good thing for our minds and bodies. In a new article in the National Communication Association's Review of Communication, authors Stephen M. Yoshimura and Kassandra Berzins explore the connection between gratitude expression and psychological and physical well-being. As one might expect, positivity begets positive results for our well-being.
What the authors write may seem obvious: "Gratitude consistently associates with many positive social, psychological, and health states, such as an increased likelihood of helping others, optimism, exercise, and reduced reports of physical symptoms." However, the authors argue that not enough research has been done on the communication of gratitude and its effect on well-being, and they propose further avenues for analysis of gratitude messages and their impact.
Expressions of gratitude are often a response to others' acts of generosity -- if you receive a gift from someone, or an act of kindness, you reciprocate by showing gratitude, sometimes publicly, to highlight the giver's altruistic act. Gratitude is a different emotion from happiness because it so often stems from the actions of another individual. "To experience it, one must receive a message, and interpret the message," the authors write.
Numerous studies show that expressing and experiencing gratitude increases life satisfaction, vitality, hope, and optimism. Moreover, it contributes to decreased levels of depression, anxiety, envy, and job-related stress and burnout. Perhaps most intriguing is that people who experience and express gratitude have reported fewer symptoms of physical illness, more exercise, and better quality of sleep. Who wouldn't be grateful for that?
While the immediate effects of gratitude expression are clear, the authors argue that it also contributes to long-term success in relationships and personal well-being -- "up to six months after a deliberate expression to one's relationship's partner." Just as we periodically boost our immune systems through vaccines, we can boost our relationships and mental state by expressing gratitude to our partners on a regular basis. The authors leave us with a general health practice: Why not regularly communicate gratitude to enhance our social connectedness?
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Yoshimura, S. M., & Berzins, K. (2017). Grateful experiences and expressions: the role of gratitude expressions in the link between gratitude experiences and well-being. Review of Communication, 17(2), 106-118. DOI: 10.1080/15358593.2017.1293836