With Love and Gratitude

A blessing a day keeps the doc away

Gratitude Expressed Is a Win-Win of Feelings and Attitude

Defining gratitude can be like dissecting the rainbow.

Gratitude is the simple expression of appreciation. Research studies tell us that gratitude is an attitude that can be measured scientifically. However, some therapists also view gratitude as a feeling. Defining gratitude can be like dissenting the rainbow. Whether we perceive gratitude from a religious, scientific, or social perspective — in essence gratitude is about saying “Thank you” and showing appreciation. But herein lies the challenge. It is easy to be grateful during happy times, but what about the sad times?

Gratitude as attitude

According to Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, “Gratitude is an attitude. Even if you are not satisfied with your life as it is today, if you go through grateful motions, the emotion of gratitude should be triggered. It is like improving your posture and, as a result, becoming more energetic and self-confident.”

Emmons was the recipient of a $5.6 million grant last May from the John Templeton Foundation aimed at advancing the science of gratitude. He is gathering and promoting evidence-based practices of gratitude in schools, workplaces, homes and communities to determine the role of gratitude in a civil society. Rita Watson | San Francisco Examiner

In the new release “A Simple Act of Gratitude: How Learning to say thank-you changed my life,” John Kralik, now Judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court, tells how he turned his life around by writing heartfelt thank you notes.

From a therapist’s point of view

Even people suffering from a diagnosable mental disorder can benefit from gratitude. Patricia Donovan, EdD, MSOT, assistant professor of occupational therapy at Worcester State University, has extensive experience working with this population. She has seen first hand how experiences of gratefulness can turn around depression.

However, Dr. Donovan explained: “Those with severe depression, for example, are unable to experience gratitude unless they have a reason to be grateful, which is an elusive experience for them.

"As therapists, we need to provide activities whereby they can experience the feeling of gratitude. For example, I facilitated a group in which people had to get up from their chairs, move about and engage in a brief physical fitness exercise. Just the movement itself lifted their spirits and generated feelings that they did not have while clinging to their chairs with their heads down.”

When the session ended, she was able to see how an otherwise depressed group made the connection between feeling better and being grateful.

“One woman said to me at the end of the session, ‘Thank you so much, you made the time go by faster. You made us laugh.’ Many others chimed in as they walked away standing a bit taller. They connected the activity to the feeling and were able to express gratitude.”

Dr. Donovan said, “It’s like Ann Curry, suggesting that we pay it forward through acts of kindness. In such cases both giver and receiver are uplifted.”

The 26 Acts of Kindness trend was sparked by NBC News correspondent Ann Curry, who asked herself “What can I do?” after she learned of the Sandy Hook tragedy. Ann Curry proposes #26Acts of kindness, goes viral - CBS News

Grateful people are happy and healthy people

Researchers have long been aware that grateful people have more social connections and fewer bouts of depression, which currently affects an estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults. This figure translates to 57.7 million people according to the National Institutes of Mental Health.

“There is an overall improvement in general well-being including a reduction in hypertension and stress, improved heart functioning, and enhanced immune system responses,” said Dr. Donovan.

Gratitude is a way to develop a garden of abundance. We cultivate this garden though a leap of faith that plants a seed in your heart for a happier day. Just begin:

  • Taking a chance on a smile
  • Sending out thank you notes
  • Making gratitude visits, and
  • Saying the words “thank you” 

Gratitude in sad times

The challenge of gratitude during difficult times and periods of loss is precisely the time to rely on gratitude as an attitude.  Finding just one little thing that you can relate to — getting up in the morning, seeing the sunshine, hearing the song of a bird — is enough to propel some out of despair.  

A gratitude journal is tangible evidence that can be referred to time after time as a reminder that a peaceful heart and joy is within reach. A Basket of Gratitude for Every Day Thanks | Psychology Today

Copyright 2013 Rita Watson/ All Rights Reserved

Rita Watson, MPH, is an Associate Fellow at Yale's Ezra Stiles College and a columnist for The Providence Journal.

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