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The Powerful Benefits of Pairing Writing and Gratitude

By Isabelle Scott

‘Tis the season! Every year, this Thanksgiving season sparks a national refocusing on gratitude. Recent research has shown many benefits of gratitude including lower stress, better sleep, greater happiness, greater capacity to handle adversity, strengthening relationships, as well as evidence pointing to gratitude as potentially lowering the risk of heart disease and improving health in general (Singh) (“Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier”).

The possibilities and potential for gratitude are endless. But what does recent research say about gratitude in writing specifically?

A blog article published by the Harvard Medical School discusses a couple of key studies on gratitude and writing specifically.

In one study, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman tested a group of 411 people. He tasked the group with different writing assignments (for example, some focused on writing about early memories as a sort of “control” group for the experiment). He also incorporated different “positive psychology interventions” including one writing assignment where the individual was tasked to write a letter of gratitude to a person who deserved their thanks. Seligman found that these participants showed a significant increase in their happiness scores after participating in this gratitude writing task. He also found that the benefits of this task of gratitude writing showed greater impact than any of the other forms of positive psychology interventions and that these benefits lasted a month (“Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier”).

In the second study, psychologists Dr. Robert A Emmons and Dr. Michael E. McCullough had three groups participate in writing practices a few times each week. The first group was tasked with writing about things they were grateful for throughout the week. The second group was asked to write about things that had bothered them or irritated them throughout the week. Finally, the third group was told to write about events that had affected them for better or worse. Ten weeks later, the researchers found that those in the first group (gratitude writing) were more optimistic, more positive, exercised more, and had fewer visits to physicians (“Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier”).

Recent research is showing us that the benefits of gratitude writing are powerful and numerous. By pairing writing with a thankful mindset, we set ourselves up for more positivity, happiness, and better health in our lives.

If you don’t know where to start, here are just a few ideas for how to spark your practice of gratitude writing:

- Write a letter of thanks to a loved one

- Keep a gratitude journal

- Make a note each day of ten things you are thankful for

- Create a list of people you are grateful to have in your life

- Free-write about times when someone has helped you

- Write about meaningful experiences you’ve had in your life

- Make a list of moments or things that you are grateful for during the different times/phases of your life

- Write about individuals who have been influential in your life and why you are thankful for those people

Thanksgiving is a fun, nationwide time to refocus on turkey, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and the reminder that when we practice gratitude writing, the potential benefits are limitless!

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