The holidays are the time we come together to give thanks and celebrate. It can also be a stressful time full of demands to cook, decorate, and spend money. Sometimes the stresses crowd out the fun, so we have to remember to take time to be thankful and practice gratitude for our blessings. And, it turns out that feeling thankful can have a tremendously positive impact on your health, happiness, and even financial wellbeing.
The good news? Research has found that as we age, gratitude and other positive feelings come more easily. Could that explain why we feel more happiness in retirement?
Why Are Being Thankful and Practicing Gratitude so Important?
Rituals of thanksgiving around the world are ancient, and all of them celebrate our resilience and joy as we overcome life’s obstacles. Science now shows us why being thankful and practicing gratitude are so good for us.
Feeling Grateful Improves Your Health
The fact that our ability to feel grateful increases as we age is great news because feeling grateful actually improves your overall health and well-being.
Dr. Glenn Fox, the Head of Program Design, Strategy, and Outreach at the USC Performance Science Institute, has done extensive research on the topic of gratitude and your health. He has found that higher levels of gratitude generally predict that someone has:
Less anxiety and depression
More social connected-ness
Better sleep patterns
Lower blood pressure
Dr. Fox’s research showed that practicing gratitude actually re-wires your brain to reduce the negative health impacts of bad news and improve the health effects associated with good news.
Giving Thanks Makes You Better with Money
Researchers from Northeastern University, the University of California, Riverside, and Harvard Kennedy School conducted a study that found “Feelings of gratitude automatically reduce financial impatience.”
The implications of the finding are enormous. “Showing that emotion can foster self-control and discovering a way to reduce impatience with a simple gratitude exercise opens up tremendous possibilities for reducing a wide range of societal ills from impulse buying and insufficient saving to obesity and smoking,” according to Assistant Professor Ye Li from the University of California, Riverside School of Business Administration.
How does an act of gratitude prompt us to save our money and delay instant gratification? The researchers hypothesize that it may be because feeling thankful provides the fulfillment that otherwise we’d seek in bad behaviors, like “retail therapy.” They also speculate gratitude makes us feel like we need to “pay back” in the future.
Being Thankful Makes Us Less Materialistic
In two studies conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Minnesota and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that children and adolescents with a grateful disposition were less materialistic and keeping a gratitude journal significantly reduced materialism.
As the old saying goes, being rich consists not in having lots of possessions but in having few wants. Gratitude and giving thanks may help us to be happier in life (and in retirement) by making us happier where we are and less stressed about achieving material wealth for its own sake.
Practicing Gratitude Makes Us More Resilient and Productive.
Being thankful and making gratitude a practice has proven health benefits. But it also has knock-on benefits that come from building a positive attitude, even in the face of adversity.
Many people think Sheryl Sandberg is one of the most accomplished people alive today. As the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook — one of the largest companies in the world — she has overseen a 21st-century success story. But as she told the 2016 graduating class at the University of California Berkeley, after the sudden, unexpected death of her husband, she didn’t know how she would be able to go on.
Only after her friend Adam Grant, a psychologist, advised her to focus on how grateful she should be for her other blessings did she realize that “the seeds of resilience are planted in the way we process the negative events in our lives.” Sandberg told the Berkeley grads that day, “Finding gratitude and appreciation is key to resilience. People who take the time to list things they are grateful for are happier and healthier. It turns out that counting your blessings can actually increase your blessings.”
Ways to Increase Gratitude
Convinced that you want to feel more grateful? There are proven ways to increase gratitude in your life. Here are four simple ways to get started right now.
Your mother probably encouraged you to write thank-you notes. It turns out that there is a good reason for this. Not only does giving thanks make the other person feel good, it can also increase your own happiness.
Think About What Makes You Feel Grateful
Expressing thanks is great. But you can reap the powerful effect of gratitude even if you don’t share your feelings with anyone. Sheryl Sandberg writes down three “moments of joy” before she goes to bed each night, and she says the practice has changed her life.
Take a moment to just think about someone and why you are grateful for them. Some people equate this expression of gratitude to meditation or prayer.
Keep a Journal
Some people take time every day to write in a gratitude journal. Whether you write your thoughts in a notebook or a scrap of paper, the important thing is that you take the time to document your thoughts.
As manystudies have shown, keeping a gratitude journal may help you focus on wellness and divert you from bad physical and emotional habits.
Announce Your Gratitude on Social Media
The “Gratitude Challenge,” typically observed on Facebook, asks participants to post a note of gratitude for 21 straight days. Users reported that the challenge helped them notice more beauty and to feel more optimistic.
Financial Trends You Can Feel Grateful for Even Now
Beyond things that you are personally thankful for, here are a few retirement-related concepts that may deserve your gratitude.
You Are Here
Let’s face it, not everyone makes it to retirement age. Medical advancements, improved food supply, and more have made it possible for more of us to live long, healthy, and happy lives.
We should also be thankful that medical science is so advanced. Viable vaccines make it more possible to enjoy friends and family this year.
You Have Options
Most of us have not saved adequately for a financially secure retirement. However, that does not mean that we are without options.
Working a little longer, making compromises on a budget, and using home equity are just some of your options for making sure that you have the retirement you want.
The Stock Market Is (Still) at Record Highs
If you have retirement savings that are invested in the financial markets, you have a real reason to give thanks. The U.S. markets are higher than they have ever been.
However, it is important to note that volatility in markets (and in life) haven’t been totally vanquished. Another shock could be around the corner. As someone in (or near) retirement, be cautious and prudent about your exposure to the financial markets.
The Economy is Recovering
While inflation and supply chain issues are worrisome, retail sales are booming and the job market and productivity are strong.
Social Security and Medicare Remain Intact
Despite taking a revenue hit at the beginning of the year, these important programs are still around, and the incoming presidential administration has signaled shoring up the finances of these two important programs is high on its priorities list.
Retirement Planning Is Easier Than Ever
Not sure how you are going to afford retirement? The good news is that retirement calculators are getting better and better.
The NewRetirement Retirement Planning Calculator will let you try out different scenarios and play with your options to let you discover ways to make retirement a viable and secure option.
Retirement Is Your Time
Regardless of your financial status, now is the time to make the most of your life. Study after study has shown that having control over your time gives you more happiness than having money. Looking for ideas on how to spend that time? Here are 65 tips for happiness, health, and wealth in retirement.
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