Green graphic that says "thank you"

The Business of the Brain on the Internet: The Psychology of Gratitude

In the midst of all the depressing political coverage lately (regardless of whether you voted for Trump, can you really sit idly by while he appoints Steve Bannon as White House Chief Strategist?), it can be hard to muster the strength to be thankful. And yet, the season of gratitude is upon us.

Besides the fact that you still have to find a way to make it through Thanksgiving with your in-laws next week, psychological research shows that being grateful is actually good for your mental health and overall wellbeing. Studies have linked gratitude with increased satisfaction, motivation, and energy; better sleep and health; and reduced stress and sadness.

In addition, grateful people are much more engaged with their environment because gratitude requires us to look outside of ourselves, which, somewhat ironically, leads to greater personal growth and self-acceptance. Feeling grateful also creates stronger feelings of purpose, meaning, and specialness.

If you’re not feeling grateful at the moment, the good news is that studies also show that we can deliberately cultivate gratitude. Of course, deliberate cultivation requires effort (might I suggest taking a hiatus from Facebook? I know. I couldn’t do it either). So, while I can’t help you cultivate gratitude, I can give you some reasons to be thankful.

Here they are:

1. Hundreds of Students Walk a Woman to Class.

After a video posted by Baylor University student, Natasha Nkhama, went viral, hundreds of students gathered to walk her to class. In the video, Nkhama described how she was deliberately pushed off the sidewalk and called the n-word by another student saying he was “trying to make America great again.” This is only one story among many of people standing up for what’s right against individuals acting badly.

 2. Subway Therapy” helps New Yorkers cope with election results.

After riding a virtually silent subway Wednesday morning after the election, New Yorker, Matt Chavez, decided to grab some pens and sticky notes and made a sign that simply said, “Express yourself.” More than 2,000 people have stopped to share their thoughts about the election posting sticky notes with their thoughts on the wall. Chavez inspired a similar movement called “Subway Therapy Boston.” As far as I know, a similar movement has not broken out on the DC Metro.

3. Emma Watson hides Maya Angelou books on the NYC subway.

Actress, Emma Watson (who played Hermione in the Harry Potter movies), hid books of inspirational poetry on the subway on Wednesday afternoon. She announced it on Twitter and added that she is going to “fight even harder for all the things I believe in.”

4. The ACLU raises a record $7.2 million.

On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union announced that it raised a record $7.2 million from 120,000 individual donations, which is the biggest fundraising haul in the organizations nearly 100-year history. The executive director said that the money would be used to defend the Constitution and look after the rights of protestors in the wake of Donald Trump’s election.

5. The Atlantic’s video series “Women and Leadership.”

This series of short videos features interviews and insights from five women in politics, media, and technology. The interviews are a good reminder that there are strong people working to make a difference and succeeding. If you are looking for inspiration, these videos are a great place to start.

Gratitude connects people into a mutually supportive and sustaining mesh of social relationships, which, of course, it acts to strengthen and develop. It is the foundation of the type of society in which people can look after one another without coercion, incentives, or governmental interference, which, unlike gratitude, demean rather than exalt us. Sounds like exactly the kind of thing Americans need right now.

What are you feeling especially grateful for now?

Let me know in the comments below or on social media (TwitterFacebook, or Google+).