The Science of Gratitude Shows Multiple Benefits
Gratitude is taking center stage in a number of scientific arenas, with research showing that the simple practice of gratitude can improve physical and emotional health, strengthen relationships and improve overall well-being. Researchers say that by giving up the victim mentality of not having enough and realizing the power of what they do have in their lives, individuals can overcome anxiety, depression and other mental afflictions, such as addiction. Hard research is tough to argue with. The next step is to find out how to practice gratitude and reap those nice benefits.
The most popular form of practicing gratitude is through the “gratitude list.” In 12-step programs, sponsors regularly suggest this practice when a sponsee is flailing, and therapists sometimes use this technique with depressed clients, as well. While studies show that just thinking about what we’re grateful for can boost our sense of well-being, the action of writing can solidify it, and making it a regular practice can reap even more benefits. In fact, it’s recommended that individuals find a specific time of day for writing a gratitude list so that it becomes a habit. However, a habit can breed boredom, so one way to overcome the rote practice of writing the same list every day is to find specifics to be grateful for. If gratitude for the family is expressed, it might be helpful to think about something a family member has done lately to generate gratitude. If one is grateful for his or her cat, what is it about Skeekers that arouses gratitude? Soft fur? Nighttime cuddles? Crazy antics?
Practicing gratitude in the moment is another way to bring gratefulness into one’s life. By stopping and asking, “What can I be grateful for right now, in this moment,” individuals practice both awareness and gratitude. If sitting in the office, maybe it’s appropriate to be grateful for a new software program. If walking in the fresh air, maybe it’s time to be grateful for the ability to walk and breathe. In addition, research is showing that by sharing gratitude, families, romantic relationships and communities are strengthened. This might mean setting aside time for a special gratitude activity, such as sharing thanks at mealtime — not just for the food, but also for the people sitting at the table or for the events of the day. Big family gatherings like Thanksgiving can also be a good time for a gratitude fest. Church services sometimes set aside time for congregants to share their thanks. And just saying a simple thank you to people who have gone out of their way is yet another way of sharing gratitude.
The Universities of California at Berkley and at Davis recently launched a multi-million dollar project called Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude, in which researchers will study the effect of gratitude on bullying and on youth development, as well as gratitude in the workplace and the neuro-pharmacological roots of gratitude. It is hoped that evidence-based practices of gratitude in medical, educational and organizational settings will surface as a result of the research project. As this and other studies continue, the simple practice of gratitude may take on more urgency and meaning.