The Science of Gratitude
Researchers Robert A. Emmons, University of California - Davis, and Michael E. McCullough, University of Miami, have been conducting a study on gratitude. Three groups of participants in the study were asked to keep journals. One group used their journals to record the hassles and problems they had faced. The second group recorded neutral life events while the third group kept â€œGratitude Journalsâ€ listing the experiences and things they were grateful for each week. Following are highlights from the â€œResearch Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness - Dimensions and Perspectives of Gratitudeâ€.
- In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).
- A related benefit was observed in the realm of personal goal attainment: Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions.
- Participants in the daily gratitude condition were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another, relative to the hassles or social comparison condition.
- In a sample of adults with neuromuscular disease, a 21-day gratitude intervention resulted in greater amounts of high energy positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others, more optimistic ratings of oneâ€™s life, and better sleep duration and sleep quality, relative to a control group.
The researchers have found that â€œgrateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress.â€ Oneâ€™s thankfulness also has an effect on how others see them. â€œPeople with a strong disposition toward gratitude have the capacity to be empathic and to take the perspective of others. They are rated as more generous and more helpful by people in their social networksâ€
Other traits found to be improved or enhanced by an attitude of gratitude are: well being, sociality, spirituality and a healthier view on possessions and materialism.
The holidays are a great reminder of the importance of gratitude. The challenge then, is can we take that frame of mind and carry it through the rest of our lives. If we do, research tells us we will live a happier, less stressful and more meaningful life.
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