The word gratitude comes from the Latin word gratia, meaning grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. It is a genuine giving of thanks, knowing that without certain help, action, or circumstance, you would not have made it to where you are. With Thanksgiving peeking over the horizon, it seems natural to talk about what gratitude really means, and the impact it can have both mental and physical health.
Most people who are in college, or have been to college, can attest to the sheer amount of pressure that students experience from day one until graduation. All of the stresses that come from being in school can sometimes overshadow all of the good that happens, making it very difficult to show appreciation and keep an optimistic outlook on life.
Research in positive psychology has shown that gratitude is strongly linked to level of overall happiness. It fosters a feeling of positive emotions in people, allowing them to feel true joy during a good experience, to build lasting relationships, and even to improve their physical health. How can that be?
Imagine a person with no gratitude. Every day is a constant battle against something, and nothing ever satisfies. The person’s entire focus is on what comes next, instead of being thankful for what they have in the present. Being thankful is the foundation of being happy, because being happy is being content with what you have and where you are in the moment.
Next time you’re feeling like the world is out to get you, or that nothing good is happening in your life, take some time to practice your gratitude. This sounds remarkably cheesy, but it is the first step to incorporate a level of thanks into your life. It can be as easy as writing a thank you note. Think back to the last person who helped you, or did something for you. They could be a teacher, a friend, or a family member. Whoever it is, think about what they did or how they helped and how it impacted you, and thank them for it. If you decide to send it, this low-effort show of appreciation can be enough to nurture the relationship.
At its, core, gratitude is acknowledging something good that had a positive effect on you. Simply recognizing something as being good for you, and being thankful for it, improves your overall view of the world. It reminds you that despite all of the stress in life that tries to tear you down at every opportunity, there is still some good out there. It raises morale, boosts hope, and gives you a reason to keep at it.
Gratitude is some of the best medicine against everyday stress. For more information on how to cultivate gratitude and mental wellbeing, visit well.wvu.edu/stress.