Rita Watson MPH

With Love and Gratitude

Gratitude as Science: 4 Paths Lead to Love and Happiness

Even accepting gratitude as attitude instead of feelings can generate joy.

Posted Sep 30, 2015

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Source: Wikimedia.org

Even the happiest of people find that on some days they cannot smile. This can come about for many reasons ranging from a sad event to a physical illness. On those days, it is difficult to find one's smile. Even if we want to look lovingly at the special person in our lives, the corners of our mouth stubbornly retain a frown. Sometimes just a hug can be the ice breaker. But what happens when sadness or even anger linger too long? 

This is when Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at University of California at Davis, would be reminding me of what he has determined through scientific research. Here are four paths to the science of gratitude: Accepting gratitude as an attitude, teaching children to be grateful, training your brain for gratitude, or adapting a gratitude disposition.

Accepting gratitude as attitude

"Gratitude is an attitude, not a feeling that can be easily willed," he says.  It seems that even if you are not satisfied with your life as it is today, he noted, "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."

Dr. Emmons points out in his research and in several interviews I've conducted with him: "Attitude change often follows behavior change. By living the gratitude that we do not necessarily feel, we can begin to feel that gratitude that we live."

He said that there are at least four gratitude boosters. These include: Smiling, saying "thank you," sending thank-you notes, and making gratitude visits. Gratitude as Attitude Sparks Love   

Teaching children to be grateful

Jeffrey J. Froh, Psy.D., associate professor of psychology at Hofstra University says: “Children as well as adults benefit from gratitude.”  Dr. Froh's findings indicate that grateful children do better in school, have fewer headaches and stomach aches, get better test scores, and may be more community minded.

He commented: "A lot of these findings are things we learned in kindergarten or things our grandmothers told us, but we now have scientific evidence to prove them."

Because it is important for children to see parents practice what they preach, he suggests: 

  • Thanking your child often even if he or she is doing required chores.
  • Encouraging children to send pictures to grandparents, relatives, or friends explaining that they will be grateful and happy to receive their beautiful artwork.
  • Generating an attitude of giving. Ask children to select clothes or toys that you might give to children in need or share with neighbors.
  • Saying “thank you” to spouses and friends in the presence of children and explain why you are grateful. Teaching Children Gratitude   

Rewriting your brain in 3 minutes a day

In talking with Loretta Graziano Breuning, Ph.D., of the Inner Mammalian Institute,
she says that you can wire yourself to see good in the world. “Oftentimes, this gets ignored because it has no place to flow until you build a new pathway. And you can do this by focusing on the good three minutes a day or three times a day at one minute intervals," she said.

Dr. Breuning pointed out that you must keep up the gratitude focus for 45 days even if it seems fake or foolish.  Here's the catch. 

"If you miss a day, start over from Day One.  You must go 45 days straight because that is what it takes to get a new trail established. Trailblazing takes a lot of focused energy.  Make your energy available for gratitude. You'll be so happy that you did."

Once you've created that new neural pathway for gratitude you will be less likely to take the old road of negativity. Train Your Brain for Gratitude

Adapting a gratitude disposition

With the Duchenne Smile, one might say that smiling can change your personality for the better. In looking at the research on smiles and on gratitude, these seemed to be part of a love attraction tapestry. Just as the persuasive “light up your life” smile can be practiced, gratitude can be practiced until one begins to extend gratitude – even in the absence of an initial feeling.

To visualize the Duchenne smile, named after a 19th century physician, Guillaume Duchenne, M.D., think of Julia Roberts and Mario Lopez, or even the smiley face emoticon. This coveted smile comes about when there is a contraction from muscles that raise the corners of one’s mouth, the zygomatic major, and those that are reflected in crow’s feet around the eyes, the orbicularis oculi. 

Research shows that some people can actually produce this smile for the sake of being persuasive. Smiles and laughter are contagious, as we learned from studies by Robert R. Provine, a neuroscientist and professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. 

Is it possible that by practicing the Duchenne smile until it becomes a reality you will begin to find yourself feeling a bit happier and adapting a gratitude disposition? Perhaps. One might say that smiling can even change your personality for the better. Love Connections: The Duchene Smile and Gratitude 

Whether accepting gratitude as an attitude, teaching children to be grateful, training your brain for gratitude, or adapting a gratitude disposition -- embracing the gratitude concept connects the dots of attitude and emotion into healthy, positive relationships.

Gratitude as Emotion: 4 Challenges to Forgiveness was Part One. 

Copyright 2015 Rita Watson

Resources:

RA Emmons - "Thanks!: How the new science of gratitude can make you happier" 2007, Houghton Mifflin.

RA Emmons, CM Shelton - Handbook of positive psychology, 2002 - Oxford University Press

J Froh, WJ Sefick, RA Emmons - Journal of School Psychology, 2008 - Elsevier

Fletcher Garth, et al.  The Science of Intimate Relationships, Feb. 2013, Wiley. 

Robert Provine: Laughter: A Scientific Investigation(link is external) /NationalCenter for Biotechnology Information, J Foer - ‎2001 

RA Emmons, CM Shelton - Handbook of positive psychology, 2002 - Oxford University Press