So, what if there was a simple solution to stress, involving nothing more than giving thanks for the positive things in your life? Well there is. It’s called gratitude.
Gratitude means giving thanks, counting one’s blessings and acknowledging what we receive. Psychological and behavioral research has shown that your life will improve in amazing ways if you simply take a few moments each day to shift your focus from what your life is lacking to the abundance already present.
Giving thanks makes us happier and more resilient. It improves relationships, health and reduces stress.
Being Thankful Increases Your Quality of Life
Studies show, people who regularly practice giving thanks have a measurable increase in their overall wellness.
In a research paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “Counting Blessings vs Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life”, psychologists Robert A. Emmons (UC Davis) and Michael E. McCullough (University of Miami) reported on an experiment they conducted regarding gratitude and its impact on well-being.
Spanning three separate studies, over 400 people were split into separate groups and each of them tasked with recording a daily diary. The first group was asked to keep a general log of the events that occurred during their day, the second group was told to record only unpleasant experiences and the last group was instructed to record events for which they were grateful for. The surprising results of the study were that the group that recorded things for which they were grateful for also showed heightened levels of energy, optimism, determination, enthusiasm and increased alertness. They were more resilient to stress and depression, exercised more often, were more likely to help others and made greater progress towards personal goals.
Dr. Emmons, author of the book “Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier” has been studying psychology for almost fifteen years and is a leading clinician in the growing field of positive psychology. He has proven that thankfulness is good for us, and that learning to be more thankful and by adopting an “Attitude of Gratitude” people are more likely to:
- feel happier
- exercise more
- eat better
- be more alert
- build stronger immune systems
- be more optimistic about the future
- cope with stress
- take better care of themselves
So with that in mind, here are a few simple suggestions to learning to live a life of gratitude.
- Saying thank you. If somebody does something nice for you, just say thanks, and mean it. No matter how small the act might been, they were thinking of you, let them know that you appreciate it.
- Going out of your way to be thankful. If something positive that someone has done for you crosses your mind, or helps you to cope with a situation in a better way, give them a call or send them an email. Let them know that you are thankful for something they have done in the past. It only takes a few minutes and will brighten everyone’s day.
- Look at things in a new light. Most difficulties can also be opportunities to grow. Many of the challenging situations in our lives are not really that upsetting, we just chose to take a negative outlook on them. Think back to some of the more stressful, difficult or sad situations you’ve been through and where you are now because of them. Your life today is the product of your past experiences, both good and bad. If you learn to give thanks for the things you have now, how can you be unhappy with the events that lead you to them?
- Write it down. Recording things you feel grateful for is a great way to regularly give thanks. Emmons has shown that individuals who listed five ore more things weekly that they felt grateful for reported greater optimism and fewer health problems than those who didn’t. Additionally a second study has shown that daily gratitude logging is even more effective.
- It’s about who you have, not what. We generally assume that those of us who have more material possessions have more to be thankful for. Research however, suggests otherwise. Dr. Ed Diener, (University of Illinois) states that while income is not highly correlated with happiness, social relationships are. Similarly the 75 year Harvard Grant Study has shown that you can have money, a successful career and good physical health, but without supportive, nurturing relationships we cannot truly be happy.
Once you learn to focus on things to be thankful for, you’ll find yourself beginning to appreciate life’s simple pleasures and all of the things you’ve previously taken for granted.