Gratitude – It’s What Happiness Is Made Of

The other day I came across a video illustrating the findings of a recent study on gratitude and happiness. The study concluded that people who practice gratitude in their daily lives are happier, overall. The 6 minute, 25 second video is well worth watching. The creators illustrate the power of one little act of gratitude and the uplifting effect it has on those involved.

How Do You Practice Gratitude?

To practice gratitude, you first need an idea of what it means to be grateful. Here’s what I see as gratitude or thankfulness:

  • Counting your blessings
  • Living every day as if it were a miracle
  • Taking note of everyday pleasures
  • Mindfully acknowledging each thing you receive
  • Expressing your gratitude toward others (my personal favorite)
  • Appreciating each person in your life and what they do for you

Truly grateful people have a thankful attitude even when energy is low, or they’re touched by tragedy and hardship. Have you ever known a person who always seems happy and cheerful even in the face of seemingly insurmountable personal strife and problems? Those are the truly happy people and recent studies show that gratitude actually does make people happier and healthier.

Studies on Gratitude and Its Power Over Quality of Life

A study conducted by two psychologists, Michael McCollough from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis indicates a strong correlation between gratitude and personal well-being. The investigators split a few hundred people into three different groups. They instructed the first group to keep a daily diary about their everyday experiences. The researchers instructed the second group to write about bad experiences and the third group to record daily things for which they were grateful.

How did it all turn out?

Those who kept gratitude journals reported significantly higher levels of things like optimism, energy, enthusiasm, and alertness. This group also reported fewer bouts of depression and stress and tended to exercise regularly. What’s more, they reached out to others in need more readily and got further along toward personal goal achievement.

Emmons, who has studied the positive effects of gratitude since 2001, wrote a book about his findings called, Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier. His book includes findings from research conducted by researchers worldwide and involving thousands of people. One consistent conclusion these studies found is that practicing gratitude can elevate a person’s happiness by about 25 percent. Everyone goes through bad times and has momentary dips in happiness, but for those who practice gratitude, this dip doesn’t last and their feelings of well-being rapidly bounce right back up to higher levels. In his book, Emmons goes on to cite research showing that those who practice mindful gratitude on a daily basis have stronger immune systems, healthier social relationships, and are more creative than those who aren’t grateful.

Tips on Practicing Gratitude

Our lives are so busy and full of tasks and errands, many of us take the goodness and blessings we have for granted. It’s important to notice and mindfully appreciate the gifts already present in our lives. Find joy in the little things in life rather than holding back your happiness for those big achievements and accomplishments. Allow yourself to feel joy over the mundane. On those days when things turn sour, remember that every adversity brings a learning opportunity and the key to open doors of new positive experiences and joy. During those times of trial, ask yourself, “What can I learn from this experience? How can this unpleasant event help me in the future?”

It’s also important to express your gratitude externally. Tell others how thankful you are for the little things they do on a regular basis. You can thank them verbally, or you can write a letter. When thanking others, be sure to get specific about the things they do, no matter how small, that bring you joy and happiness. That’s exactly what the people in this video did.

One of the easiest ways to create a habit of practicing gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal – just like the third group did in Dr. Emmons’ study. Everyday you’ll write down a list of several things for which you feel grateful. Not only does keeping a daily gratitude journal help you notice all the blessings, big and small, in your everyday, it builds the writing habit. For aspiring authors, building a writing habit is key to future success.

Practice proactive gratitude by continually looking for the blessings around you and expressing your thanks to those who positively impact your life. Don’t just practice reactive gratitude when things go your way, or you get what you want. Instead, mindfully seek the joy and pleasure already present in your life.

Photo from www.carolynrubenstein [dot] com by Alex Blackwell