LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
Scientific research has demonstrated that gratitude has many health benefits. According to Harvard Health, studies have shown that taking time to reflect on things we are thankful for has a positive association with personal wellbeing and health.
In our country, Thanksgiving Day has been celebrated since 1621 but was not officially a national holiday until President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed it one in 1863. In 2015, the whole month of November was designated National Gratitude Month. Gratitude is not a new concept, but its November monthly observance is, and continued research shows that practicing gratitude has a multitude of benefits.
Research has shown that people who practice gratitude tend to be happier, less depressed and more resilient. More studies have found that managers and leaders who take the time to say “thank you” to employees help their teams feel motivated to work harder and feel appreciated. Taking time to express gratitude in families, at work and among friends helps build stronger, longer-lasting relationships.
Expressing gratitude also improves both physical and mental health. Grateful people have fewer health problems and get better sleep that can contribute to longer, healthier lives. In addition to improving happiness and decreasing depression, gratitude reduces negative emotions such as aggression, envy, frustration, resentment and regret while enhancing empathy and sensitivity towards others and improving self-esteem.
We all have the ability to practice gratitude by taking a few moments each day to focus on things we are grateful for. A good place to start is the garden. There are many things to be grateful for in our gardens and home landscapes.
For one thing, our gardens can provide nourishing food. That is, after all, what the first Thanksgiving celebrated. Fall is a major harvest season globally, and what better way to celebrate that harvest than to share with your friends and family?
The food we grow not only provides nourishment for our bodies and gives us energy for growth and day-to-day activities but also is a major source of daily vitamins and minerals needed to stay healthy.
Gardening has many forms of physical activity that supports a healthy lifestyle. In addition, we can make sustainable gardening choices that benefit the environment and wildlife.
Just being thankful for the ability to garden can improve your mood and reduce stress. Going into the garden, we can reflect on time spent in nature and take time to notice what’s going on around us — from birds flying by and singing songs to noticing the pollinators and other insects in the garden. Perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects to be thankful for is the beauty in nature.
Flowers and luscious green foliage as well as being thankful for a bountiful harvest can be very rewarding. Completing a landscape project can bring immense joy as we sit back and reflect on the hard work we’ve put in and the beauty we take away from it.
You can practice thankfulness by gardening with gratitude. Gratitude can be expressed in more than one way. Journaling can be an effective way. Gratitude journaling can be as simple as a daily listing of just a couple of things you are thankful for, and studies have shown that doing this daily can boost your happiness and wellbeing in just a couple of weeks.
Let’s be honest, though — keeping a diary like this isn’t for everyone. If I am any example, I often start to journal for a few days only to fall out of the habit very quickly. It does take time and intention, but the benefits can be very profound.
Another easy way you can express feelings of gratitude is to simply acknowledge things and reflect on times you are grateful for in the moment. You can also use mindfulness to think back on times you spent with your family in the garden or reflecting on a time you planted a tree with your parents, partner or children. Reflecting back on a plant that was passed down from generation to generation can be so gratifying. If you have ever planted a tree in someone’s memory after they have passed, it can serve as a daily reminder to be thankful for all the good times you spent together.
Don’t forget about the future. Try to have an optimistic outlook on life and find things to look forward to — like working in your garden this spring when the natural world around us will once again be bright and colorful. There are many other future events that can motivate us, like an upcoming vacation and family and school events such as weddings and graduations. Being mindful and intentionally focusing on something positive is connected to gratitude.
One of the easiest ways to practice gratitude is by saying “thank you” to a family member for their help in the garden. In addition, it’s not a bad idea to be thankful for a much-needed rain for your garden, or a drop in temperatures after our long, hot summer, or the sun for your plants to grow.
Acting grateful can actually make us — and those around us — more grateful. Gardening with gratitude is one of the simplest ways to improve your happiness in life. While you cultivate your plants, cultivate an “attitude of gratitude.”
Journaling can be an excellent way to practice gratitude. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
Reflecting on and being thankful for family and heirlooms passed down from generation to generation can enhance our happiness. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
Being thankful for time spent in gardens and for all of the beauty of nature to enhance our wellbeing. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter