The Science of Gratitude

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Robert Emmons is the world’s leading scientific expert on Gratitude. He is Professor of Psychology at University of California.

His research has shown that participants, who keep a gratitude journal weekly, for 10 weeks, or daily, for 2 weeks, experience more gratitude, positive moods, optimism about the future and better sleep.

There are physical, psychological and social benefits associated with being grateful.

People who feel gratitude for the good things in their life enjoy better health and greater happiness.

Gratitude helps us to consciously focus on the positive things.

Gratitude works because it forces us to pay attention to the good things in our life that we might otherwise take for granted. (Our brains have a negativity bias and are very good at thinking too much about what goes wrong).

Gratitude trains our brain to become more attuned to everyday sources of pleasure around us – and the emotional tone of our life can shift in profound ways. Research suggests that translating thoughts in to concrete language makes us more aware of them, deepening their emotional impact.

Some studies suggest writing in a gratitude journal 1 -3 x week might have greater impact than journaling every day. This might be because we adapt to positive events and can soon become numb to them.

Tips for Your Gratitude Practice:

  1. Be as specific as possible with as many details e.g. “I’m grateful my husband stopped off at the shops after work to bring some milk home so I didn’t have to go out later tonight”, instead of, “I’m grateful for my husband”.
  2. See good things in your life as ‘gifts’. This guards against you taking good things for granted
  3. Savor surprises. Try to relish the unexpected and surprises, as this elicits stronger levels of gratitude.

Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present.

It magnifies positive emotions.

Research on emotions shows that positive emotions wear off quickly. Our emotional systems like newness, novelty and change. We adapt to positive life circumstances like a new house or car and then they don’t feel so new and exciting anymore.

Gratitude allows us to celebrate the good, rather than adapt to it.

Gratitude blocks toxic, negative emotions like envy, resentment and regret – (emotions that can destroy our happiness)

Gratitude makes you more stress-resistant & gives you a higher sense of self-worth

Gratitude allows us to give credit to others for our success such as our parents, teachers or mentors.

There are many different gratitude practices so it’s important to find what suits you or maybe try a few different ones and mix & match.

  1. Gratitude Journal – list 5 things you’re grateful for each week
  2. Count your Blessings – on a regular basis – first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening.
  3. What Went Well – also known as “Three Blessings” – this is a framework for gratitude work from Martin Seligman’s work on Positive Psychology.
  4. Gratitude Jar – the whole family can use it to write things down and watch it fill up. This is good for children.
  5. Gratitude Letter – write a letter to someone important in your life, thanking them for what they’ve done for you.

Don’t forget that sometimes the bad things that happen in life make us more grateful for the good. In society we have our National Days of Remembrance like Anzac Day, so we can look back and be grateful for those who died so that we can live the life we do now. In our personal lives, we can also look back and remember that some of the tough times helped to get us where we are now.

You can watch this TED talk about Gratitude

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