The benefits of gratitude last a lifetime

Psychologists sometimes study how gratitude affects a person’s life. Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has. You can think of gratitude as “thanks giving.” In the past, psychology traditionally focused on mental illness, and mental or emotional problems. Within the last decade, they have also begun to branch out into “positive psychology”.

“Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living. It is a call for psychological science and practice to be as concerned with strength as with weakness; as interested in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst; and as concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling as with healing pathology.”

In simpler words, it studies how ordinary people can become happier and more fulfilled. They’ve discovered that practicing an attitude of gratitude is one way to do that.

 At the “Psychology Today” website, I found “Make a Gratitude Adjustment,” an article by Lauren Aaronson, who reported on different scientific studies about the benefits of gratitude.

“Simple (gratitude) exercises can give even skeptics a short-term mood boost, and once you get started, you find more and more things to be grateful for,” says Robert Emmons, a leading gratitude researcher at the University of California at Davis.”

University of Michigan professor Chris Peterson asked his students to write a “gratitude letter,” an overdue thank you letter to someone in their lives they never properly thanked. It has to be sincere and from the heart. He said his students feel happier 100 percent of the time.

For those that are uncomfortable with the idea of practicing gratitude, Peterson says that you can “fake it until you make it … Say thank you enough … and your mind will fall in line with your words.”

Emmons adds that we can be grateful for anything that in part has come from another person. Someone who helps you with your homework, the friend you can tell anything to, the car pool, the neighbor who brings the extra bananas to your door, your friend who stops you from doing something you’ll regret later on, the people who donate to the food bank, the cat who always shows up when you feel bad (I had one. His name was Goldberg). Each one of these beings is showing that they care for us. That bolsters our self-esteem and people with good self-esteem tend to try more things and be more successful than people with poor self-esteem.

 Emmons suggests that people “take just a few minutes each day to jot down things that make you thankful, from the generosity of friends to the food on your table or the right to vote. After a few weeks, people who follow this routine “feel better about themselves, have more energy and feel more alert.’” Feeling thankful even brings physical changes, studies show. List keepers sleep better, exercise more and gain a general contentment that may counteract stress and contribute to overall health.

Eastern Washington University psychologist Philip Watkins found that consistently ungrateful people tend to think that the flashier, bigger things in life will make them happier, like that big-screened TV or winning the lottery. Those who can see the blessings in their lives tend to think that they’ll get happiness from things like “Fulfilling relationships — which research shows, are the real sources of satisfaction. Because grateful people don’t fixate on money or material goods, they may cut back on envy and nagging comparisons with the Joneses.” He also found that even traumatic memories “fade into the background for people who regularly feel grateful.”

Think about it. Why would you want a flashy car? To be noticed. Why do you want to be noticed? So someone might take an interest in you. Why do you want people to take an interest in you? So they might have a positive relationship with you. See the above paragraph. That is the real source of satisfaction. Cultivate good relationships with kindness, humor, respect, caring, generosity, and you can be grateful for them without the flashy car, expensive insurance and high auto maintenance!

Emmons found out that when individuals start being grateful daily, they begin to feel a “greater sense of connectedness to the world.” Others notice it, saying that they’re more helpful.

“Even a simple thank you spurs people to act in compassionate ways they might not otherwise consider. People thanked for giving directions help more willingly in the future, social workers who get thank you letters visit their clients more often, and diners whose waiters write ‘thanks’ on the check give bigger tips.”

So not only is expressing gratitude good for the one you give it to, it’s also good for yourself. Get more in the habit of saying “Thanks.” Become more aware of all the kindness and beauty around you. Know that you are cherished by your Creator. This Thanksgiving, may your gratitude list be long. Happy Thanksgiving!

Hale `Opio Kaua’i convened a support group of adults in our Kaua’i community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at aatkinson@haleopio.org

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