Gratitude is one of the most powerful methods for making yourself happier. When you’re feeling stressed, gratitude is the antidote that can neutralize the negativity that’s pervading your mind. Rather than ruminating on all the problems and pressures you’re facing, taking time to be grateful can create the counterbalance you need to maintain your well-being.
Gratitude can be demonstrated in many different ways. It’s being genuinely appreciative of a person’s best qualities. It’s sitting in awe of natural beauty. It’s counting your blessings. It’s savoring every moment of a wonderful experience. It’s being grateful to someone who made a difference in your life. It’s thanking the higher power for the many gifts that He’s bestowed.
Studies have shown that people who consistently express gratitude have much higher levels of happiness on average. In addition, they experience more energy, optimism, and positive emotions. The very act of being grateful prompts the use of other positive approaches such as being more empathic, helpful, spiritual, forgiving and less materialistic.
In contrast, people who infrequently experience gratitude have been found to be for more likely to suffer from loneliness, envy, anxiety, depression and other neuroses. With low levels of awareness of what makes life gratifying, they ruminate about what’s wrong. Their relationships often wither because they’re not providing the people in their lives with enough kindness, affection and appreciation to generate a sufficient number of positive emotions. Studies show that increasing gratitude improves people’s level of happiness.
Researchers at the University of California, Riverside found that when individuals took the time once a week to write down five things for which they were most grateful among all of the events that had occurred during the week, they became significantly happier within six weeks.
Gratitude can break the habit of dwelling on what’s wrong by introducing more careful consideration of what’s going right. When people take the time to realize what they’ve accomplished and the strengths they demonstrated in achieving goals, they feel much more capable and confident.
The team of researchers discovered eight reasons why cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” was effective at improving a person’s feeling of well-being:
Increased mindfulness. Developing the habit of grateful thinking enabled people to extract the most enjoyment and satisfaction from their current circumstances. In relishing moments with their loved ones or savoring the view of their beautiful back yard, people were able to take much more pleasure in the positive aspects that were present in their life.
Improved self-esteem. Practicing gratitude boosted happiness by bolstering feelings of self-efficacy, which the American Psychological Association defines as “confidence in the ability to exert control over one's own motivation, behavior and social environment.” Reflecting on success offsets the tendency to focus on failings, setbacks, disappointments and criticisms.
Less stress. Gratitude was found to be a terrific stress management tool. When negative events occur, people automatically have fight-flight-freeze reactions. Expressing gratitude helps folks to remember that things could be worse, and puts traumatic experiences in a more positive light. For example, a person who has a car accident will have increased anxiety, but may also become a better driver as they see the advantages of defensive driving.
More giving. Being grateful for the help you’ve received from others prompts people to return the kindness. Having been the recipient of caring behaviors generally increases the number of kind acts people are likely to commit.
Better relationships. Gratitude builds stronger bonds. Increased appreciation for your family and friends means you’re more likely to express your gratitude for the good things they bring. When you show people how much you value them, your positive feedback creates an upward spiral in which people who receive your gratitude want to express thanks for all you bring into their lives.
Less social comparison. Being grateful disrupts people’s tendency to unfavorably compare themselves to others. Focusing on what’s good in your life makes you less envious of what others may have. Recalling times when your life is great allows you to be happy for others when they too experience success.
Better mood. It’s nearly impossible to express gratitude and be in a bad mood. How can you appreciate someone and be irritated at them at the same time? Practicing gratitude dissolves mistrust, jealousy, bitterness, resentment and defensiveness.
Fewer bad choices. Gratitude increases our happiness is by shifting our focus from shortcuts like eating, drinking, smoking, and spending to authentic sources of joy such as love, laughter, and leaving a legacy.
Dr. Tom Muha is a psychologist practicing in Annapolis. More information about positive psychology can be found at www.PROPELprinciples.com.