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The Power of Gratitude
Do people who seem more grateful feel that way because they have more to be grateful for? Maybe. But science also suggests that they may have more to be grateful for because they practice gratitude.
Two psychology professors – Robert Emmons at the University of California-Davis and Michael McCullough at the University of Miami -- have done extensive research on the topic of gratitude. And their research suggests that people who feel gratitude for the good things in their life are not only happier, but often healthier and more productive.
Their study started with three groups of volunteers. One group was asked to focus on the hassles they encountered each week, one group was asked to focus on everyday events during the week, and one group was asked to focus on the things for which they were grateful each week. Each group kept journals detailing the events of the week from their specific perspective.
The volunteers who focused on things for which they were grateful saw their lives in a more positive light, and therefore they were more pleased with their lives and more optimistic about the future.
But the benefits did not end there. The group that kept gratitude journals also felt better physically, and they exercised more than did the people in the other groups. They accomplished more during the week, too. The psychologists said, “Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions.”
The scientists later asked a group of college students to keep daily gratitude journals, as well as to keep a record of things like how well they slept, how much medication they took and how much they drank. And the results of that study reinforced the earlier findings. Those students were happier, they felt better physically, they slept better and they were less likely to medicate with pills or alcohol. According to the professors, “A daily gratitude intervention … with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy….”
So how can you become a more grateful person? Certainly some people are naturally more positive than others, more focused on the good things in life. But even if you have a more negative approach, you can work to change it.
Just change your focus. Don’t look at the negative, but instead search for a positive. For example, when the people you work with are driving you crazy, focus on the things you like about your job that make you glad to do it. If your car breaks down, remember that you are lucky to have a car and the money to repair it. If your kids are bugging you, think about all the good things they do that make you proud and happy.
You may even want to follow the lead of the volunteers in the professors’ study, and write down the things for which you are grateful. Even if you don’t keep a “gratitude journal,” when you review your day before you fall asleep, look for the things that happened that make you feel thankful. Certainly you will list big things, like a loving family or a good job or your health. But don’t overlook the little things, like getting in the right line at the bank, finding a good parking spot or watching your son play well in his basketball game. The idea is to get into the habit of looking for reasons to be grateful.
And as the research shows, that can be a very fulfilling and productive habit.