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Gratitude is the general acknowledgment of the good things in our lives and feeling thankful for them. It usually involves recognizing what contributes to our overall happiness and well-being.

Gratitude and your health

Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California in Davis and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami have conducted research on gratitude. In one study, they asked participants to write a few sentences every week about specific topics.

One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week, while a second group wrote about daily irritations. A third group wrote about events that had affected them, regardless of whether they were positive or negative.

The results? “After ten weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives than the other groups.

Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation,” reports Emmons and McCullough.

Gratitude and happiness

Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, examined the effects of positive psychology interventions.

He had subjects write about early memories. One assignment involved writing a letter of gratitude to someone whom they had never properly thanked.

They were also instructed to deliver the letters themselves. This resulted in much higher happiness scores for the participants.

According to Seligman, this impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for a month.

Gratitude and relationships

According to “In Praise of Gratitude,” a study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partners not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.

Managers who remember to say “thank you” to the people who work for them may find that those employ– ees feel motivated to work harder.

Researchers at the Whar- ton School at the University of Pennsylvania randomly divided university fund-raisers into two groups. One group called alumni to solicit donations in the same way it had always been done.

The second group received a pep talk from the director of annual giving, who said that she was grateful for the fund-raisers’ efforts.

During the following week, the university employees who received the pep talk made 50 percent more fund-raising calls than those who did not.

According to the Gratitude Power website, Emmons found that people who view life as a gift and consciously acquire an “attitude of gratitude” will experience multiple advantages, including improved emotional and physical health, stronger relationships, higher energy levels, and even an increased ability to cope with tragedy and crisis. Gratitude strategies included keeping a gratitude journal, learning prayers of gratitude, and using visual reminders.

“Without gratitude, life can be lonely, depressing and im- poverished,” said Emmons. “Gratitude enriches human life. It elevates, energizes, inspires and transforms. People are moved, opened and humbled through expressions of gratitude.”

However, cultivating this attitude isn’t easy. Em- mons refers to it as a choice that is not merely a positive emotion but, if cultivated, improves health. He suggests, “People must give up a ‘victim mentality’ and overcome a sense of entitlement and deservedness.”

Research has also suggested that feelings of gratitude may be beneficial to subjective emotional well-being.19 For example, Watkins and colleagues had participants test a number of different gratitude exercises, such as thinking about a living person for whom they were grateful, writing about someone for whom they were grateful, and writing a letter to deliver to someone for whom they were grateful.

The participants in the control condition were asked to describe their living room. Participants that engaged in a gratitude exercise experienced more positive emotion immediately after the exercise and this effect was strongest for participants who were asked to think about a person for whom they were grateful.

Participants who had grateful personalities to begin with showed the greatest benefit from these gratitude exercises. In people who are grateful in general, life events have little influence on experienced gratitude (McCullough, Tsang & Emmons, 2004).