Most people think of gratitude as a feeling. Actually, it is a practice. Did you know that there is a science of gratitude?
Major academic centers the world are investing in gratitude. Gratitude is studied as a part of a relatively new branch of Psychology called Positive Psychology. A landmark study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2003, volume 84 number 2, entitled “Counting Blessings versus Burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life." This research suggested that”...a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits”.
Much more recent research since then has also underscored the physical health benefits of gratitude. Most of us understand by now that the mind and body are connected on a neurophysiologic level, and while it is fascinating, it is no surprise that a mental practice such as gratitude could go on to have concrete benefits to physical health.
What is gratitude, the practice?
Prof. Robert Emmons, the author of”Gratitude Works !" recommends establishing a full on gratitude ritual. These can include the following:
- Make a resolution or vow to practice gratitude.
- Make a plan to practice gratitude.
- Have a morning gratitude ritual. Examples would be glancing over your gratitude journal or meditating for a few minutes about what you are grateful for.
- Adopt the physical habits of gratitude such as smiling and making eye contact, saying hello,, saying please and thank you, and making a physical gesture such as handshaking if appropriate.
- Send written expressions of gratitude such as emails and thank you notes in paper.
- Place objects or other visual cues in your house, office, or where you can see them to remind you of something for which you are grateful.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Make it brief but make it regular. If you keep it by your bed you can glance at it first thing in the morning.
- Go out of your way to remember good times.
What will a practice of gratitude do for you?
There is an enormous body of science from a variety of sources that indicate the following effects of gratitude:
- Stress reduction
- Improvement of a immune function as measured in the bloodstream.
- Better recovery from loss, i.e. Better resilience
- Higher levels of life satisfaction.
- For students,better grades.
- It makes you a better friend to others.
- Improved sleep.
- Strengthens interpersonal relationships
- Improves team functioning
- Greater alertness
- Greater enthusiasm
- Greater goal attainment.
- Lower levels of depression
- Enhanced capacity for empathy
- Improved self esteem
- Reduced aggression
- Decreased loneliness
- Greater tendency to act with generosity and compassion
- Increased energy.
This is not just new age foo foo nonsense. Institutions such as Stanford, Harvard, and Penn, not to mention Google have thrown serious money, time, and entire departments into the pursuit of the evidence based effects of gratitude.
So this Thanksgiving, capitalize on this most important of national holidays. Find your gratitude, and keep it going.
References and Additional Reading: