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Thankful. The Science of Gratitude

by Tiffany L. Schrade


It's that time of year when we hear it most, the words "thankful" and "gratitude," a bit ad nauseam if you ask me. Albeit at least these words get their moment in the sun at all, so I won't be too mad about it. But I will say the dissonance that arises in me is that these words shouldn't be simply reserved for a certain time of year when we see Autumnal decorations hanging in our neighbor's window with these reminders to take a moment and extend appreciation; it should be happening all year round. And here are some very good, scientifically researched, reasons why!

  • The work of Dr. Robert Emmons of UC, Davis and Dr. Michael McCullough of Univ. of Miami asked participants in their research study to write a few sentences a week with each of the three groups focussed on either things they were grateful for, irritations, and neutral life events. After a 10 week study of these practices, the gratitude group exhibited heightened well being across several of the outcome measures.

  • UPenn researcher and psychologist, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, reported of his various positive psychology interventions, writing and hand delivering a thank you note to someone who had never been thanked for their act of kindness, had a huge impact on the participant's happiness with effects lasting up to a month!

  • Lambert NM, et al. noted, expressing gratitude for your partner, not only increases positive feeling towards that person, but it also allowed for the individuals to express concerns about their relationship. (We all know its better to honestly broach a subject before it has time to fester... amiright!?)

  • A study done by Francesca Gino at Harvard Business School, separated two groups of fund raisers (all on fixed salary) and had the director of fund raising express gratitude for their hard work to one group, but not to the other. The group that had received the expression of gratitude increased their fundraising outreach calls by 50% whereas the group who did not receive gratitude, maintained the same number of calls as the previous week.

Now I know what you might be thinking... "Duh!" Of course that's the way the research is bound to go! Its common sense, But let's be honest... common sense isn't always that common. Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsk's work has shown that 40% of our happiness is determined by intentional action. That means YOU have to put directed effort into how you choose to feel!

Sometimes starting a new habit can be a challenge, after all, in some cases we are completely dismantling a conditioning from decades of iterations, and it can feel like unsuccessfully turning the Titanic around! And perhaps jumping to the Pollyanna affect may feel too contrived. Well, I'm here to tell you thats ok and I empathize! As you ease your way into breaking the old known habits, here are some easy stepping stones towards your revolution:

  • Stop complaining - you don't have to feel like Snow White and have blue birds landing on your finger to start down your path of gratitude, but it'd be really helpful to just stop complaining!

  • Observe your thoughts - Start to become a witness to where your mind has a tendency to go and simply acknowledge it. I'm not saying you have to even change it, but the more you catch yourself before heading down that slippery slope, the more effectively you can start to choose how you think.

  • Change your environment - Feeling like there's no reason to feel grateful, change your surroundings. Get out of the stagnant energy you may be all too familiar with and see/feel something different.

Those are some gateway drugs towards the real deal. So if you're ready to increase the pumping of positive endorphins into your system here are a few gratitude practices for you to try out:

  • Gratitude journal - keep a journal by your bedside and write 3 things you're grateful for that day either before you get up or before you go to bed (or both, you Super Star, you!)

  • Write Thank You notes - There's always something you can thank someone for, even if its just simply the act of being themselves! Just the exercise alone of thinking about a person and what you can thank them for is bound to increase your gratitude receptors!

  • Visualize - Bring to mind situations, events, people, etc. that you feel thankful for and relive the experience and good feelings of those moments.

  • Be Present - Nothing other than right now is real. When you take time to be present in the moment, it is impossible for both presence and discontent to exist simultaneously. And THAT is something to be grateful for!

  • Get Creative - Nobody knows you better than yourself and you are a creative being! So do some soul searching and find what lights your soul up and bring your focus back to all you have to be grateful for, create your own practice of gratitude.

We exist in a benevolent universe! So put on your rose colored glasses and give praise to all the gifts this world has given us!

And remember to say THANK YOU!!!


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