GRATITUDE: “Recognizing the importance of a source of help, pleasure etc. and expressing one’s appreciation for it.”
Come the 1st January of every year and everyone flips out their notepads and starts to furiously scribble a list of nearly impossible things that they term resolutions. One of the most common of all (makes a frequent appearance on a lot of people’s lists) is as follows: “will lose 20 pounds and get hitched by Valentine’s Day”. Now please explain to me how it is possible to lose 20 pounds in 45 days and still get hitched?
I guess its high time people resort to practical and doable resolutions which will not be a source of misery for them in the months to come.
So this year, my new year’s statement of intent is to be GRATEFUL. Gratitude according to PhD. Melanie Greenberg is “an attitude and a way of life that has been shown to have many benefits in terms of health, happiness, satisfaction with life and the way we relate to others”. Wow! Can I avail so many benefits by just being grateful? I am all game for it!
The science behind how gratitude makes you happy and healthy:
Study 1: In 2003, professors Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough examined the effects of gratitude diaries on nearly 200 under-graduation students who were divided into 3 namesake groups: gratitude/blessings, hassles/annoyances and neutral/random events, and they had to make weekly diary entries of at least 5 things in accordance to the title/topic of their group. After 10 weeks, those in the gratitude group reported feeling more positive about their lives, more optimistic about the coming week, having fewer physical ailment complaints and spent more time exercising when compared to the other two groups.
The researchers felt that although positive outcomes were noticed, gratitude didn’t lead to a positive affect/mood as per their prior anticipation.
Therefore yet another study was conducted, this time with daily diary entries for 2 weeks. They also replaced the group of neutral/random events with one in which the participants wrote about the ways they were better off than other people (called downward social comparison). Though this seems similar to expressing one’s gratitude, it is not likely to have the same benefits.
Results: Those in the gratitude group experienced a more positive mood during the two-week period than those in the other groups. These participants were also more likely to report doing acts of service such as helping someone solve a problem, offering emotional support etc. Therefore a positive affect/mood was reported. However lasting impact on health couldn’t be measured in a small span of 2 weeks so another study was conducted.
Study 2: The study consisted of 65 adults with neuromuscular disease who were divided into 2 groups. The first group was asked to write gratitude diaries for a 21 day period (gratitude group) and the other group had no intervention (control group). At the end of 21 days, the participants from both groups were asked to fill assessment questionnaires for mood, well-being and health. Those in the gratitude group also had their partners rate their mood and levels of life satisfaction.
Results: The gratitude group had more positive views of their lives than the control group. They also reported a more positive mood, lower levels of stress and greater satisfaction with life, in short much happier. Health wise the participants in the gratitude group reported better sleeping patterns, lower levels of stress and lesser bodily aches.
Conclusion: Perhaps focusing on all the things one is blessed with reduced the worry and angst that keeps people awake at night. Lack of sleep is a precursor to a whole host of other issues that can be nipped in the bud by merely being grateful.
How can you be grateful?
- Think of someone who has helped you in life and say a mental thank you to them (e.g. parent, teacher, friend, colleague)
- Think of somebody who makes life a lot easier for you in your daily life and say a mental thank you: (e.g. cleaner, newspaper and milk delivery boys, pet, boss, babysitter)
- Be thankful for the food you eat and the person who has put in the effort to cook it for you
- Think of those who make your life worth living and say a mental thank you (friends and family)
- Give thanks to nature for having bestowed upon us this bounty and pledge to conserve the environment
- If you are in good health, be thankful for it and pledge to take good care of yourself. In case you are not in the pink of health, still be thankful since a lot of others have it far worse than yourself.
Let the thanks start pouring out of our mouths. STAT!!
References: Emmons, R.A. & McCullough, M.E. (2003). “Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life.” (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377-389)