Mental Health Mondays: A Key to Renewal in the New Year: An Attitude of Gratitude

By Dr. Chad Lemaire, Psychiatrist and Legacy Behavioral Health Medical Director

The New Year is a time of renewal for many. People often focus on resolutions such as exercising, healthy eating, improving their career or giving up smoking or drinking. But I’d like to suggest an additional approach to renewal for this coming year. Let’s focus on renewal from a position of gratitude.

Since childhood, we’ve probably all heard the advice to be grateful for what we have. But research also backs up the power of gratitude. Numerous studies have shown that counting one’s blessings can be quite powerful, from a psychological perspective. And we often think about gratitude as what we are thankful for — the things that we have. But what if, rather than simply being grateful for the things in your life, you show gratitude toward others?

Researchers have found that showing gratitude and giving praise to others can improve our own emotions – often more than having gratitude for things we have received. Certainly, both can be powerful, but there is something about connecting to others that is important to us as human beings. Authentically showing others that you appreciate them creates that connection.

You can show gratitude to the people in your life through kind gestures, actions and words. For example, compliment a co-worker when they do a good job. Tell your spouse or partner thank you for the little things they do, such as making your coffee or doing the laundry. Give your child a hug and let them know how important they are to you. One of my daughters spontaneously told me recently that she loved me and wanted to be part of our family forever — that one sentence changed my mindset to one of peaceful calm, that entire day and for many days to come.

Best-selling author and psychologist Adam Grant and his team found that showing gratitude for what you do for others, rather than an appreciation for what you have or what others do for you, was a bigger predictor of resilience (the ability to recover from difficulties). Maybe the old adage was right — it is better to give than to receive.

I’ve witnessed these themes since Hurricane Harvey hit our community. Many have been especially grateful when they were able to help others, during and since the storm. Even some who experienced significant losses have expressed how thankful they are for their own and their loved ones’ physical safety, those who helped them or their ability to help others. And some have noted an increased attention to what matters most in life — their relationships with people who they care about. Making meaning out of tragic events is another way that we build resilience, and a stance of gratitude can be a large part of that. By giving thanks, we help others feel appreciated and remind ourselves of how fortunate we are, even if we experienced losses.

And it doesn’t have to be a daily practice – in fact, some studies have found that practicing gratitude weekly was more powerful than having a daily practice. Each person can find the routine that best suits them. And whether that routine is a weekly practice or a spontaneous act, simple expressions and thoughts of gratitude can shift your thinking into a place of positivity, because you’re looking for the good in others and yourself. And it helps others to feel better, too. So, adopt an authentic attitude of gratitude for renewal in 2018. The benefits are numerous.

Happy New Year.