The reason why gratitude is a repeating theme in our W3llbing Games is because it has one of the strongest positive effects on quality of life, even more than optimism, hope, or compassion. The power of gratitude was already being recognized in ancient times when the Roman philosopher Cicero called it a top virtue. He did not see it as merely a stepping stone toward personal happiness but as a moral disposition that comes from the inside, an intrinsic motivation to not only feel good but to do good. Therefore, gratitude should not simply be used as a method or technique to improve one’s mood but as an opportunity to live a life with more awareness (recognize all the things you have to be grateful for!) and, according to Robert Emmons, a leading researcher on the topic of happiness, it can bring about a myriad of psychological, physical, interpersonal, and spiritual benefits.
What else? Those who express gratitude sleep better, are more hopeful, experience positive emotions more often, are more caring, empathetic, and less materialistic, and find it easier to forgive others. These striking statistics have led to the idea of a “Gratitude Journal” to see whether this exercise can boost our happiness and health. Studies have shown that those who keep a gratitude journal are 25% happier, sleep on average 30 minutes more per night, and exercise 33% more each week than those who do not.
They took 192 students and divided them into three groups:
- The gratitude group was asked to write down five things that they are grateful for every week for ten weeks. This could’ve been anything — from a certain relative or good friend to a sunny day or a delicious slice of pizza.
- The events group was asked to only write down five things that happened to them during the week, e.g., “learned CPR,” “flew back to Sacramento,” and “cleaned out my shoe closet.”
- Participants in the hassles group were asked to write down five things that angered them during the week. Some examples listed by participants included, “a messy kitchen,” “stupid people driving,” and “hard to find parking” etc.
The participants’ happiness levels were measured before, during, and after the experiment. Not only were satisfaction levels among participants of the first group 25% higher than those in the second and third groups, but these students reported suffering less often from physical ailments such as headaches, throat pain, nausea, and skin problems.
In the second part of the study, 64 adults with neuromuscular disorders were observed. Some of these patients (gratitude group) were asked to take part in the “Gratitude Journal” exercise, while the others (control group) were meant to write down things that happened to them during the day. After three weeks, the gratitude group reported that they slept better and felt more optimistic. Even the spouses of those in the gratitude group noticed that their partners were in better moods!
This is not it. There might be even more to it in the long run: Gratitude journaling lets you leave a legacy gift behind for yourself (or your children) to look back on years from now, allowing you to reflect on all the positive things that occurred in your life. This practice can help you take another perspective on yourself and renew your focus so that you can make room for positive changes in your life.
Practicing gratitude encourages us to shift our consciousness and way of thinking. Instead of focusing on the things in life that we are lacking, we learn to recognize the abundance that surrounds us and perceive them as gifts. The important thing is to train your mind to start paying attention to the gratitude-inspiring events that happen every day. This reconditioning of the mind helps us reevaluate stressful and negative situations in our lives, develop stronger coping skills, and strengthen our social relationships (remember how important these are!). What’s more, because you cannot feel positively and negatively simultaneously, the more gratitude we practice, the more we can ward off feelings of envy, hatred, anger, greed, etc.
Curious to hear some experiences? Here are some comments made by individuals who were asked to keep a gratitude journal while going through a tough time:
- I am reminded that there is more to feel good about than to feel bad about.
- When I’m sinking and get caught up in my problems, it helps me rise above them.
- I actually feel better when I am thinking about all the gifts I have in my life.
- It keeps me in touch with reality out there rather than my constant negative interpretations. I remember that others are there and can be supportive.
- Writing about good things rather than bad things in my life makes me feel lighter inside.
Expressing gratitude is one of the most important (and easiest) steps to a sustainably happier life. It doesn’t take much effort and reaps wonderful results.
As a tip to help you expand your personal gratitude, you can consider the following facets of gratitude: intensity, frequency, span, and density.
- Intensity: How intense are your feelings when you feel gratitude?
- Frequency: How often do you feel grateful? Several times a day or hardly ever?
- Span: How many things are you grateful for at once? Only 1-2 or 10+ items?
- Density: How many people do you feel gratitude towards for any given positive outcome or event in your life? For example, someone with a strong gratitude disposition may be grateful to parents, elementary school teachers, tutors, mentors, fellow students, God, etc. for obtaining a new job.
Considering all four facets of gratitude will help you expand your gratitude practice as you develop it. Take a moment every now and then to ask yourself these questions and work actively to be more grateful. As R. Emmons so eloquently puts it, “When you grow in gratitude, you grow all over.”