Do you focus on the positive instead of dwelling on the negative?
Do you ever pause to think about all of the good things you have, no matter how small they may seem?
Do you acknowledge people you care about and thank them for being part of your life?
In other words, do you practice gratitude?
Over the past decade, hundreds of studies have documented the social, physical, and psychological benefits of gratitude.
First, it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received. This doesn’t mean that life is perfect; it doesn’t ignore complaints, burdens, and hassles. But when we look at life as a whole, gratitude encourages us to identify some amount of goodness in our life.
The second part of gratitude is figuring out where that goodness comes from. We recognize the sources of this goodness as being outside of ourselves. It didn’t stem from anything we necessarily did ourselves in which we might take pride. We can appreciate positive traits in ourselves, but I think true gratitude involves a humble dependence on others: We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.
Research shows that having an attitude of gratitude can provide the following benefits:
- More energy, joy, and pleasure
- Higher emotional intelligence
- More forgiving attitudes
- Less depression
- Less anxiety
- Better stress management
- Improved resilience
- More happiness and optimism
- More feelings of being socially connected
- Stronger relationships
- Improved sleep, stronger immune system, exercise more, and overall better health
- Fewer headaches
If those aren’t reasons enough, here’s more about the benefits gratitude offers.
It’s not what you have, it’s how you FEEL about what you have that matters.
In fact, people who are materialistic are more likely to be depressed and unsatisfied, in part because they find it harder to be grateful for what they have, according to a study by Baylor University psychology and business researchers. The study – “Why are materialists less happy? The role of gratitude and need satisfaction in the relationship between materialism and life satisfaction” – appears in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
“Gratitude is a positive mood. It’s about other people,” said study lead author Jo-Ann Tsang, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor’s College of Arts and Sciences. “Previous research that we and others have done finds that people are motivated to help people that help them – and to help others as well. We’re social creatures, and so focusing on others in a positive way is good for our health.” But materialism tends to be “me-centered.” A material outlook focuses on what one does not have, impairing the ability to be grateful for what one already has, researchers said.
The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus advised, “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”
Gratitude has been linked to positive marital outcomes.
According to recent University of Georgia research that was published in the journal Personal Relationships, spousal expression of gratitude is the most consistent significant predictor of marital quality. “We found that feeling appreciated and believing that your spouse values you directly influences how you feel about your marriage, how committed you are to it, and your belief that it will last,” said study co-author Ted Futris, an associate professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. “It goes to show the power of ‘thank you,'” said the study’s lead author Allen Barton, a former doctoral student in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences and current postdoctoral research associate at UGA’s Center for Family Research. “Even if a couple is experiencing distress and difficulty in other areas, gratitude in the relationship can help promote positive marital outcomes.”
Gratitude can help you form new friendships.
A UNSW Australia-led study showed for the first time that thanking a new acquaintance for their help makes them more likely to seek an ongoing social relationship with you.
“Saying thank you provides a valuable signal that you are someone with whom a high quality relationship could be formed,” says UNSW psychologist Dr Lisa Williams, who conducted the research with Dr. Monica Bartlett of Gonzaga University in the US.
Gratitude increases happiness.
According to research done by Kent State University’s Dr. Steven Toepfer, writing letters to express appreciation for others can increase happiness and well-being.
“I saw their happiness increase after each letter, meaning the more they wrote, the better they felt,” says Toepfer, who also witnessed improvement in participants’ life satisfaction and gratitude throughout the study. “The most powerful thing in our lives is our social network. It doesn’t have to be large, and you don’t always need to be the life of the party, but just having one or two significant connections in your life has shown to have terrific psychological and physical benefits.”
Studies demonstrate, according to Toepfer, that practicing expressive writing is often associated with fewer health problems, decreased depression, an improved immune system and improved grades.
“We are all walking around with an amazing resource: gratitude,” says Toepfer. “It helps us express and enjoy, appreciate, be thankful and satisfied with a little effort. We all have it, and we need to use it to improve our quality of life.”
According to research, there are four primary characteristics that grateful people share. People who experience the most gratitude (and therefore the positive effects) tend to:
- Feel a sense of abundance in their lives
- Appreciate the contributions of others to their well-being
- Recognize and enjoy life’s small pleasures
- Acknowledge the importance of experiencing and expressing gratitude
So, how can you cultivate an attitude of gratitude?
Not naturally an optimistic, grateful person? No worries. Even the most pessimistic and skeptical people can learn how to develop a life of gratitude.
Here are 8 ideas to get you started.
Keep a gratitude journal: Recording what you feel grateful for in a journal is a great way to give thanks on a regular basis. Emmons found that people who listed five things they felt grateful for in a weekly gratitude journal reported fewer health problems and greater optimism than those who didn’t. A second study suggests that daily writing led to a greater increase in gratitude than weekly writing.
Make gratitude part of your morning ritual: Set the tone for the day as soon as you wake up. Write down 5 things you are thankful for in your journal or on a notepad. Or, take a moment to reflect on the people and things you are grateful for before you climb out of bed and start your day.
Send random notes of thanks to people: It doesn’t have to be for a specific situation – just let them know you appreciate their presence in your life.
Put a positive spin on things: It’s not actually a challenging situation that is upsetting. It’s how you perceive the situation. The next time you find yourself complaining about life’s hassles, see if you can mentally “flip the switch” to frame things differently. For example, rather than getting down about missing an opportunity, try to see the positive side. You might now have more time to direct towards other priorities.
Remember the bad times: Emmons says that in order to be grateful in your current state, it can be helpful to remember the hard times that you once experienced. “When you remember how difficult life used to be and how far you have come, you set up an explicit contrast in your mind, and this contrast is fertile ground for gratefulness,” he says.
Pay attention to the goodness around you: Take the time to notice the good deeds people and groups are doing. Go for a walk and appreciate the beauty of nature.
Contribute to a cause: Become involved in something that is important to you. Donate your time, talent, or money – or all three.
Focus on intentions: When you receive a gift, or when something good happens to you in general, consider how the giver purposefully tried to bring goodness into your life, perhaps even at a cost to themselves.
If you want to find happiness, find gratitude. ~ Steve Maraboli
Thanksgiving is coming, and bestselling author Seth Godin is offering a free Thanksgiving Reader that can be downloaded and used to help you and your loved ones express gratitude for the things you appreciate during the holidays – or any time of year.