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Rita Watson MPH

Let Gratitude Bring Back Your Smile

If we can let go of anger and sadness, we might just find our smile.

Bardone's Flowers, Yale Digital Commons
Source: Bardone's Flowers, Yale Digital Commons

Every so often, gratitude and love become a challenge. We want to smile at the one we love, but we just cannot seem to find our smile. We want to look lovingly at the special person in our life, but he has hurt us. Or perhaps we have inadvertently hurt him and we can feel the tension because instead of talking about the problem, he is off sulking or has simply shut down.

This can also happen with friends, colleagues, and family.

Sometimes just a hug can be the ice breaker. But what happens when sadness or anger linger too long and you just cannot muster up those loving feelings? What happens when anxiety and depression set in?

This is the time when Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at University of California at Davis, would be reminding me, as he did in an interview last year:

" Gratitude is an attitude, not a feeling that can be easily willed." Even if you are not satisfied with your life as it is today, he pointed out, "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 added: "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."

Smiling, saying "thank you," sending thank-you notes, and making gratitude visits are attitude boosters.

Gratitude benefits

Grateful people are found to be generally happier, with more social connections and fewer bouts of depression , which affects 20.9 million American adults. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that about 9.5 percent of the U.S. population 18 and older has a mood disorder in a given year.

Jeffrey J. Froh, Psy.D., assistant professor of psychology at Hofstra University says:

Children as well as adults benefit from gratitude. Jeffrey J. Froh, Psy.D., assistant professor of psychology at Hofstra University, in Hempstead, N.Y., says his 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.

Dr. Froh is practicing what he preaches with his own four-year-old son, whom he asks each night: "What was your favorite part of school today?" He is also helping him to be appreciative of nature, and related this vignette: "We were outside the other day, and out of the blue my " son said, 'Look at how red those leaves are. Aren't they beautiful?'

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."

Scientific observation

I asked Dr. Emmons if the purpose of his work was to convince others that gratitude can be measured from a scientific perspective, not just religious .

He pointed out that through their research they have "replaced armchair philosophy and moral and religious rhetoric regarding gratitude with empirical observation of what gratitude is and what it does in people's lives."

Developing the gratitude attitude -- try the basket method

Find a place in your home to turn a table into a gratitude desk.

  • Fill a basket with stationary, note cards, and even birthday cards.
  • Make certain to have at least two working pens in the basket.
  • Add at least one book of stamps.
  • Buy a journal in which you make a note to yourself of someone who deserves a thank you note and date it. When you send out that note, add that date as well. What you will often see is that too much time elapses from the day in which you said to yourself "I should write that person a note" and the day you actually get to write it, stamp it, and get it into the mail .And "No" email does not have the same power. From Revitalize Your Love Life with a Three Day Gratitude Plan

As you begin writing to others, you will feel your smile return. That heaviness in your heart will begin to dissipate. When that happens, write to the love in your life and speak from your heart.

Bardone's Flowers, Gift of Harold Hugo, Yale Digital Commons

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Copyright 2012 Rita Watson/ All Rights Reserved


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

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