Develop an Attitude of Gratitude

Grateful people reap emotional and physical benefits

You can learn to be more grateful

According to Robert Emmons in his book, Thanks!, gratitude means acknowledging the goodness in your own life and recognizing that the source of goodness lives at least partially outside of yourself. Emmons asserts that feeling grateful will create a ripple effect through every aspect of your life, including your quest for inner peace, wholeness, and contentment.

Religious traditions have long exhorted people to grateful. The state of gratitude is valuable in its own right and may lead to other positive outcomes. Until recently, experimental validation of gratitude’s beneficial effects was lacking. Emmons and McCullough (2003) conducted three experiments that investigated the effects of gratitude on certain aspects of psychological and physical well-being.

In the studies, subjects were randomly assigned to one to four groups (but always a control), depending on the study and ran for 10 weeks, 16 days, and 21 days, respectively.

1) Subjects in the gratitude group were instructed to think of things for which they might be grateful and to write down five things for which they were grateful or thankful for over the preceding week.

2) Subjects in the hassle group were told that hassles are annoying or bothersome irritants that occur in life and to think of and write down five hassles that occurred during the day.

3) Those in the downward social comparison group were told that comparing ourselves to other people is part of human nature and to think about and write down five ways in which the participant was better off than others.

4) The control group subjects were asked about events or circumstances that affected them over the past week and to write down five events that had an impact on them.

The results of the studies supported the view that focusing on blessings improves well-being and that people can learn to be more grateful. In Study 1, people in the gratitude group rated their life more favorably, had more optimism for the upcoming week, and had fewer symptoms of physical illness than people in the other two groups.

In Study 2, people in the gratitude group had greater positive feelings and a sense of greater connectedness to others during the 16-day period of the study than those in the hassles or social comparison groups.

In Study 3, the members of the gratitude group showed an increase positive feelings and sleep amount and quality and a decrease in negative feelings compared to the control group.

Inducing a state of gratefulness through gratitude exercises created emotional, physical, and interpersonal benefits. Gratitude may build enduring psychological, social, and spiritual resources that can be drawn on in difficult times. Thus, gratitude may help us feel better in the present and in the future.

During my long-distance hiking and cycling adventures, I have been the grateful recipient of over 300 separate acts of kindness, usually by complete strangers. These acts of generosity include food, drinks, rides into town and back to the trail, and putting me up in their homes. The photo shows two trail angels helping tired hikers revive from the rigors of the Appalachian Trail.

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