Gratitude is the antidote to many of the ills that humans experience. Experiencing sadness? Gratitude can be a remedy. Angry? Gratitude can help. Envious or resentful? Gratitude is the answer.
According to the research of Robert Emmons at UC Berkley, people who rate high in gratitude are more likely to experience the following:
- Stronger immune systems
- Less bothered by aches and pains
- Lower blood pressure
- Exercise more and take better care of their health
- Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
- Higher levels of positive emotions
- More alert, alive, and awake
- More joy and pleasure
- More optimism and happiness
- More helpful, generous, and compassionate
- More forgiving
- More outgoing
- Feel less lonely and isolated
One of the most impressive benefits of gratitude is increased resilience. Those who practice gratitude are less likely to experience depression and are more likely to bounce back from stressful events.
Gratitude seems more like a buzz word these days with phrases promoting an “attitude of gratitude” appearing ubiquitously. The reality is, in order for gratitude to truly work, one must go beyond this platitude and develop gratitude as a virtue. This means that gratitude has to be valued as a way of being; a habitual way of looking at the world.
To get started, it is important to engage in the motions of gratitude (e.g., smiling, writing letters, saying ‘thank you”) even if the emotion isn’t present. These behaviors can evoke the feeling of gratitude, reinforce the behaviors, and create a positive feedback loop. It also primes the brain to look for the good throughout the day.
Gratitude researcher Shawn Achor suggests writing three things you are thankful for every day for 21 days. Be specific and write why you are thankful for each of those things. Famous blogger, podcaster, and author of the 4-Hour Workweek, The 4-Hour Chef, Tools of Titans, and Tribe of Mentors, Tim Ferris, suggests four categories to consider when choosing what you are grateful for. These categories are:
- An old relationship that was beneficial to you or that you highly valued. I suggest considering all relationships, past and present.
- An opportunity you have today.
- Something great that happened yesterday, whether you experienced it or witnessed it.
- Something simple near you, or within sight. This can be as simple as a piece of technology that makes your life easy, or the sunshine.
Author, A.J. Jacobs, recently wrote a book called, Thanks a Thousand: A Gratitude Journey in which he chronicles his effort to thank every person who had a role in producing his morning coffee, including the barista at the coffee shop, the person who invented the cardboard sleeve that protects your hands from the heat, all the way to the person who sprays for bugs at the warehouse where the coffee beans are stored. The number of people that make your morning coffee possible is staggering. By the way, if every person responsible for making your cup of coffee was paid minimum wage in American dollars your cup of coffee would cost $25.
In my experience, there are days that gratitude journaling results in a strong, sometimes overwhelming, sense of gratitude, and others that it feels more like a chore. I find that when I engage in the practice on the days that I don’t particularly want to, I get the greatest benefit. Those days serve as the training ground for actively looking for the good instead of allowing the innate negativity bias of the brain rule.
Dr. Achor’s work at Harvard has shown that 21 days of this practice can change a low-level pessimist to a low-level optimist, and the changes persist for six months. This is a promising outcome in a world of pessimists.