The art of gratitude: Doctors say giving thanks improves your health

Valerie Hein Hamstra sits in the corner of Java Cat coffee shop surrounded by her grandma’s old crafting materials. Some of the card stock and supplies have been around since she was a little girl.

The table is covered with crayons, stamps, and every kind of paper imaginable. There are high-quality pens of all colors and quick-drying glue.

Most importantly, there’s a sign that clearly says “free”, asking people to make their own gratitude cards.

“I feel so much better when I am interacting with these people of the community. I’m giving away these things for free, which is positivity and gratitude,” Hein Hamstra said. “So if they and spread it to someone, that’s huge.”

Cal Brace is one of those people. He started making his staff thank-you cards as a way to distract himself from business talk. He quickly realized the value in the process, almost as quickly as he recognized his hidden DIY abilities. He appreciates this time of year, but wishes we all thought about being thankful more often.

“No, I don’t think that we think about that enough I don’t think we think about who’s important and why they’re important and what we’re grateful for,” Brace said.

Dr. Bhawani Ballamudi is a child psychiatrist at SSM Health. She says studies have looked at MRI scans of brains following an act of gratitude, showing biological shifts that last much longer than that brief moment.

“They actually show there are changes in the brain that actually follow after carrying on a task of gratitude. What they’ve also noticed is these changes actually last even after the task is done,” Ballamudi explained.

On top of that, Ballamudi says, people of any age who show their thanks are less likely to struggle with anxiety and depression and can see some physical benefits, such as a decrease in stomachaches and headaches. She adds that no matter what religion you may or may not practice, counting your blessings at night can lead to better sleep.

“There was research done that said that people who exercise gratitude for about 10, 15 minutes before they sleep actually sleep better for people who don’t do that,” Ballamudi said. “So you know that it actually does affect our mind and body pretty significantly.”

Ballamudi also points out that children and adults who practice gratitude on a regular basis are more resilient. She says even with competitive sports, kids who are aware of what they’re thankful for can bounce back from losses or negative outcomes because they have a foundation of happiness and contentment.

“If anything, gratitude can help you to become, a good launching pad to become more successful because you’re starting at a higher baseline, because you’re happy with where you are and you have a better sense of where you want to go,” Dr. Ballamudi said.

Ballamudi recognizes the prevalence of social media and how those users primarily broadcast the best of their lives, which could lead to some levels of envy. For her, that makes it even more important for parents to model their own gratitude and designate separate time for hands-on activities that promote that kind of thankful thinking.

Ballamudi encourages families to volunteer together, write their own thank-you notes, or simply have conversations about who they appreciate and why. She says taking the time to do that is an important step.

“Unless as the adults we take a moment to kind of hold our kids back and make them do that, it’s not really happening,” Ballamudi said.

For more tips on expressing gratitude and reasons for showing thanks, you can visit articles on Teaching Kids Gratitude around Thanksgiving