But what is gratitude? Psychologists view it as being able to maintain a world view that appreciates the positive. That may sound like optimism, but unlike simply expecting the good, “appreciation” requires recognizing that happy outcomes are not just the result of your own hard work or moral uprightness, but depend on the efforts of others and, for the more spiritually-minded, on divine providence as well.
MORE: We Gather Together
This makes it a fundamentally social emotion: you are grateful either to other people or to some sort of higher power with whom you can communicate. And if you do not behave graciously, ingratitude can cause relational problems, which could deny you the type of social support that is needed to protect against stress and depression.
Numerous studies now link counting one’s blessings to health. A recent analysis published in Personality and Individual Differences included nearly 1,000 Swiss adults, ranging from teenagers to people in their 80s. It found that physical health was strongly linked with gratitude, basically because it improved psychological health. Better psychological health meant that people were more likely to engage in health-promoting activities and to seek medical help when it was needed. Not surprisingly, this kept people in better mental and physical condition than if they engaged in self-destructive behaviors and avoided necessary medical care. Read More…