- Linda DuToit, LPC
Gratitude Increases Happiness
Research studies reveal that gratitude can transform our lives. Cultivating gratitude in our lives can be one of the most effective and reliable ways to boost happiness and create meaningful, lasting change, according to Johan Paquette, Psy. D. in Real Happiness: Proven Paths for Contentment, Peace and Well-Being, . He adds that the most powerful ways to increase our gratitude are usually found in small day-to-day practices. According to Paquette, by integrating purposeful higher levels of gratitude into our lives, we can see lasting increases in happiness, health, and our daily effectiveness.
What is Gratitude?
Gratitude is defined by expert, Robert Emmons, as “a sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life.” Thankfulness can be expressed by literally thanking someone, or it can be a private, internal process such as becoming aware of and thinking about the good aspects of our worlds. Our lives will become richer when we appreciate the fact that other people have played a part in aspects of the good things in our lives.
Why Should We Purposely Practice Gratitude?
Research over the past decade has revealed that not only does gratitude feel good, it also has a bounty of psychological, physical and social benefits. Sonja Lyubomirsky, in her happiness research, found that gratitude helps to counteract "envy, avarice, hostility, worry and irritation.” Also, people who regularly practice gratitude experience lower levels of depression and improved health. They also experience more meaning relationships, and are more compassionate and forgiving.
Research studies have confirmed that by regularly practicing gratitude, we are more likely to have good things happen in our lives both psychologically and socially. Also, gratitude is something you can learn and grow within your daily life. In a nut shell, research studies confirm that gratitude is amazingly good for us!
The Psychological Benefits of Gratitude
Stop and think about something for which you are grateful, identify the source of your gratitude, and get in touch with your emotions as they come to you. You may find that a sense of peace, calmness or contentment is present within you. Paquette describes gratitude as a “gateway emotion,” because it leads to the generation of other positive feelings and connection to the goodness in our lives.
Research has identified several mental health benefits of regularly practicing gratitude. Lyubomirsky’s research identified links between gratitude and positive emotions, greater levels of joy, and more overall pleasure in our lives. Robert Emmons’ research showed that participants who practiced gratitude had more hope and optimism about the future and were sometimes more enthusiastic and motivated. Further research has shown gratitude promotes positive emotions (including optimism and forgiveness), increases happiness, and improves life satisfaction.
Gratitude and Mental Illness
Studies reveal that gratitude may protect against episodes of depression because it counteracts negative, harmful thinking patterns in those with depression. An episode of depression is often focused on the negative aspects of life, and this can cause us to ruminate about our problems. Research by Martin Seligman, founder of Positive Psychology and author of Authentic Happiness, indicates that 15 days of gratitude practice alleviated symptoms for individuals who reported a severe range of depression. Over 90 percent of the people in Seligman’s study reported relief to the extent that their depressive symptoms were downgraded to “average” rather than “severe.”
Research by Wood (2010) found that the practice of gratitude leads to reduced levels of anxiety and depression and can reduce the intensity and length of depression episodes. When it comes to trauma recovery, gratitude can help here as well. Research by Todd Kashdan (2006) indicates that gratitude can aid in healing. And, increased levels of gratitude were linked with higher levels of self-esteem in trauma survivors.
As human beings, we have a natural, negative bias. We have to work to encourage our brains to notice and appreciate the positive aspects of life. If you are someone who tends to worry, feel anxious, or experience depression, practicing gratitude is an easy and beautiful way to begin changing the makeup of your brain's focus and chemistry.
Physical Benefits of Gratitude
Not only does gratitude help with mental health, it can improve physical health also. Researcher, Robert Emmons, found that when gratitude was regularly practiced by research participants, they experienced a reduction in physical ailments and had fewer complaints about their health than those who did not practice gratitude exercises. Some people exercised more, and some reported improvements in sleep. Further research by A.M Wood in 2009 indicates that the nature of our thoughts before bedtime can be positively influences by focusing on the good things in our lives. Rather than allowing your mind to focus on problems and worry, try thinking about the blessings in your life instead. You may find that you fall asleep more quickly and feel better rested in the morning.
Gratitude’s Impact on Relationships
The blessings in our lives often come from the people in our lives. Through the practice of gratitude, we can stop and appreciate the help we have received from others and the positive impact they have had in our lives. Research indicates that our current relationships can be enhanced and new relationships formed through the practice of gratitude. When it comes to marriage and relationships, imagine the impact that showing gratitude and appreciation can have.
There is much more to be said and learned concerning gratitude. There will continue to be posts on my blog concerning gratitude, because it is an easy and tremendously beneficial way to help ourselves. I encourage you to start somewhere and start today. Look for my blog post on gratitude practices, buy or begin a gratitude journal, or do some gratitude research of your own. Experiment by adopting a purposeful gratitude regimen and notice the difference it makes in your life. Gratitude is one of several concepts within the field of Positive Psychology worth exploring in greater detail.
Emmons, R. and McCullough, M. (2004). The psychology of gratitude. New York: Oxford University Press.
Kashdan, R. (2006). Gratitude and hedonic and eudaimonic well-being in Vietnam war veterans. Behavior Research and Therapy, 44(2), 177-199.
Paquette, Jonah, Psy. D. (2015). Real Happiness: Proven Paths For Contentment, Peace & Well-Being. Eau Clair: PESI, Inc.
Wood, A. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical Psychology Review.