According to Kevin Eikenberry, blogger for SuccessConsciousness.com, expressing gratitude can make you a happier person, but there are advantages beyond happiness. Adding gratitude to your attitude can improve your relationships, productivity, health, and even your sleep. Here's what the research tells us:
Positive emotions, such as gratitude, serve as a protective factor that enhances our capability to handle adverse life experiences (Wood, et al. 2007).
People who keep weekly gratitude journals exercise more often, report fewer physical symptoms, feel better about their lives, and are more optimistic (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).
Gratitude promotes relationships and attracts people to us (Bartlett, et al 2011).
In adults with neuromuscular disease, a 21-day gratitude intervention led to higher energy, more positive moods, a greater sense of connectedness with others, more optimistic ratings of their lives, better sleep duration, and better sleep quality (Emmons).
Children who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and their families, are more optimistic, feel more satisfied with life, and report fewer negative feelings (Froh, Sefick, & Emmons, 2008).
How to Be More Grateful
Some people just seem to be born with an attitude of gratitude. They're pleasant, always express gratitude, and just seem appreciative of everything that happens in their lives. For those who are not lucky enough to have inherited the gratitude gene, expressing gratitude may take a bit more effort, but it can be accomplished fairly easily by making gratitude a habit. Here are five ways, offered by Dr. Robert Emmons, one of the world's leading researchers on gratitude, to strengthen that habit:
1. Keep a gratitude journal. Keeping a journal to remind yourself of the people you are grateful for and the things in your life that you enjoy is a great way to reinforce the habit of gratitude. The things you write down don't have to be extraordinary experiences that happen in your life. They can (and should) be ordinary every-day events that make you happy and appreciative.
2. Remember the bad. Dr. Emmons notes that to feel thankful, it's often helpful to recall the not-so-good times in your life. This can help you contrast the good with the bad and feel thankful for what you have. It also can be helpful to remember what you have that others do not. No one's life is perfect, but there are people in the world whose lives are much worse.
3. Use the three question meditation technique. Known as Naikan, this mediation technique asks you to reflect on three questions—What have I received from __?, What have I given to __?, and What troubles and difficulty have I caused?
4. Vow to practice. Dr. Emmons says that research has shown that making an oath to perform a behavior increases the likelihood that you will do it. So commit to engage in acts of gratitude each day, and use visual reminders, such as post-its, to remind yourself.
5. Fake it 'til you make it. According to Dr. Emmons, "going through the motions" on days when you aren't feeling particularly grateful can actually trigger the emotion. In other words, forcing yourself to smile, say thank you, and write thank you letters are likely to put you in an appreciative mood.
To learn other ways to increase your feelings of gratitude, take a look at Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life.
Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!
© 2013 Sherrie Bourg Carter, All Rights Reserved
Sherrie Bourg Carter is the author of High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout (Prometheus Books, 2011).