MADISON (NBC 26) — The holiday season provides many opportunities to give thanks and express gratitude. Research shows that one of the greatest contributing factors to overall happiness and well-being is the amount of gratitude that a person experiences, according to Dr. Shilagh Mirgain, distinguished psychologist at UW Health in Madison.
“We also find from a mind body connection, that it can be helpful physically, it’s good for our heart,” she says. “It can improve blood pressure and improved glycemic control, and also has been found to improve sleep and energy and most importantly, I think it helps us feel more socially connected, that we feel less lonely and isolated when we’re practicing gratitude.”
People tend to have a “negativity bias” to focus on what’s wrong and dwell on negatives, Mirgain said.
“Gratitude can actually rewrite this by helping us start to more appreciate the good things in our lives, not take for granted those simple things that occur in our day to day life that are positive, and to also start to garnish and highlight those things that might be silver linings in our life,” she said.
Mirgain says people can cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
“We can’t control what life presents but we can control our attitude in any given certain circumstance,” she says. “And by cultivating gratitude, it helps us really start to highlight the good things in our lives so that we really start to savor and appreciate those things.”
Among practical ways to show gratitude is purposefully taking the time to talk about it, Mirgain says.
“It’s easy to talk about stressful life events or even politics, you know, for then that can really derail the conversation,” she says. “So instead, you could set the tone by saying hey, let’s go around and share at least one thing or maybe even three things that we’re grateful for in our lives and about one another. And that can be a wonderful way to closely create that sense of connection.”