The Science of Gratitude
Gratitude is a word that’s thrown around a lot, but what does it actually mean? Robert Emmons (a leading scientist and expert on the subject of gratitude) says that gratitude contains two parts; first, an affirmation of goodness, and then recognizing that these sources of goodness are outside ourselves. Emmons is a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, and the founding editor in chief of the Journal of Positive Psychology. In other words, gratitude is his bread and butter. He has researched gratitude and its effects on people and their general wellness, and the results are impressive. In fact, they’re impressive enough to be written about by Harvard Health! The article says
“In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.
One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.”
In fact, it also names another leading researcher (Martin E.P. Seligman) and his impactful findings in his own study that tested positive psychology interventions on 411 people. When the assignment for the week was to write and deliver (in person) a letter of gratitude to someone who they had never properly thanked “participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores. This impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for a month”
Anyway, you all know I love my science. There’s something so satisfying about there being research to back up even something as abstract as gratitude. It leaves little room for doubt. If you appreciate what you have, it has a positive effect on your wellness. #sciencesays
How To Implement Gratitude Into Your Life
So the science is there. But you’re no scientist. You just want to reap the benefits, right? Thankfully – see what I did there – it doesn’t take a structured scientific study to increase gratefulness. All it takes is a little bit of conscious effort and consistency. In this article written by Emmons himself, he outlines how he and his colleagues have “helped people systematically cultivate gratitude” simply by keeping gratitude journals. He also further outlines the benefits associated with increasing gratitude such as increasing your ability to stay present, preventing or decreasing toxic/negative emotions, becoming more stress resistant, and even physical benefits such as improved sleep, lowered blood pressure, and increased exercise.
Am I selling you yet? If not, here’s another article written by Emmons with 10 EASY ways to become more grateful. Keeping a gratitude journal is only one way, but it’s one I personally recommend as well. It’s a tangible, trackable way of outlining gratitude, and it’s something you can look back on during difficult times where you’re feeling less than grateful.
This doesn’t have to be a complex diary, and you don’t need more than 5 minutes every day. Simply take a blank page, and list things that you’re grateful for in your life/that day. If you’re having trouble finding gratitude, start small. Start with the most basic things in your life that allow you physical comfort and safety. Even on your worst days you can be thankful for having a roof over your head, water to drink, and food to eat. Even at your loneliest, you can be grateful for the kind stranger who held the door open for you that day. See what I mean? Instead of writing down all the things that are wrong with your life (God knows we all have our fair share of those), expend some energy into outlining all the things that are right with your life.
Start small, and go from there. Think of your loved ones, your pets, the opportunities you’ve had in life, random acts of kindness you’ve experienced, having enough money to live a comfortable life, that sort of thing. Chances are you’ll surprise yourself by just how much you have to be grateful for after doing this consistently for a couple of days.
Anyway, here is my closing message; this may be the season of gratitude, but I challenge you to extend your season of gratitude further into the New Year, even past the holidays. Of course you can be thankful for all your family and friends and gifts at Christmas time. Of course you can be grateful for a New Year filled with endless possibilities. However, I challenge you to still be grateful on a rainy day in March where you’re late to work, your dog peed on your favorite shoes, and you get a parking ticket. Catch my drift?
This time next year, chances are your outlook on life, and your wellness as a whole, will look drastically, beautifully different.
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