With the Thanksgiving holiday as our annual reminder to give thanks, an increasing body of evidence shows that expressing gratitude benefits the givers even more than the receivers. UC Davis Professor, Journal of Positive Psychology editor and gratitude expert Dr. Robert Emmons has studied the immense positive effects that individuals feel in their own lives when they consistently express gratitude.
Simple exercises such as keeping a “gratitude journal” (listing things to be grateful for each day) for a period as short as three weeks has demonstrated a wide range of benefits– in Dr. Emmons’ words:
We’ve studied more than one thousand people, from ages eight to 80, and found that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:
• Stronger immune systems
• Less bothered by aches and pains
• Lower blood pressure
• Exercise more and take better care of their health
• Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
• Higher levels of positive emotions
• More alert, alive, and awake
• More joy and pleasure
• More optimism and happiness
• More helpful, generous, and compassionate
• More forgiving
• More outgoing
• Feel less lonely and isolated.
To understand why the expression of gratitude has such wide-ranging benefits, Dr. Emmons has some thoughtful reasoning regarding gratitude’s effects:
First, it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good thing in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received. This doesn’t mean that life is perfect; it doesn’t ignore complaints, burdens, and hassles. But when we look at life as a whole, gratitude encourages us to identify some amount of goodness in our life.
The second part of gratitude is figuring out where that goodness comes from. We recognize the sources of this goodness as being outside of ourselves. It didn’t stem from anything we necessarily did ourselves in which we might take pride. We can appreciate positive traits in ourselves, but I think true gratitude involves a humble dependence on others: We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.
Keeping a gratitude journal and counting our blessings at the beginning or end of the day are simple ways to express gratitude. For those worth putting in a bit more effort, UPenn’s Dr. Martin Seligman (known as the “father of positive psychology”) recommends writing a letter to someone who positively impacted your life, delivering it in person, and reading it slowly to your benefactor.
“You will be happier and less depressed one month from now,” Dr. Seligman guarantees in his book “Flourish”.
The message is simple: give gratitude a shot, for those around you and for the benefits to your own health and happiness. That is something to be grateful for!
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