How the power of gratitude can improve personal wellbeing

Written by Liggy Webb on 3 March 2016 in Features
Features

I have long been an advocate of the power of gratitude and the profound effect that it can have on personal wellbeing.

Gratitude and being thankful is an almost universal concept amongst cultures throughout the world. In fact, nearly all of the world’s spiritual traditions emphasise the importance of being appreciative.

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Robert Emmons, a leader in the field of gratitude research at the University of California researches gratitude. The key message that Dr Emmons highlights is that the prac­tice of appreciation can significantly increase hap­pi­ness lev­els.

He believes that this is not difficult to achieve and that even a few hours spent writ­ing a grat­i­tude jour­nal over a three-week period can cre­ate an effect that lasts for six months, if not more. The research findings have also indicated that cul­ti­vat­ing an attitude of grat­i­tude can bring other health benefits, such as longer and bet­ter-qual­ity sleep time.

Feeling grateful has a number of other benefits, too. Feelings of gratitude are associated with less frequent negative emotions and can promote more positive emotions, such as feeling energised, alert, and enthusiastic.

You can even experience pleasant muscle relaxation when recalling situations in which you were grateful. It is apparent that the act of giving thanks can have a remarkable impact on a person’s well being, and the best thing is that we can tap into this amazing resource any time we like!

An appreciative mind-set can have a very powerful effect on the way we perceive our reality and ultimately, the way we live our lives. By cultivating an attitude of gratitude, we can seek out and attract more positive things into our life to be grateful for.

The important thing about having an attitude of gratitude however is the quality of the feeling that accompanies it.

The study of gratitude within the field of psychology only began around the year 2000, possibly because psychology has traditionally been more focused on understanding distress than understanding positivity. However, with the advent of the positive psychology movement, gratitude has become a mainstream focus of research.

The main conclusions that have been drawn so far are that grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress. The disposition toward gratitude appears to enhance the feel-good factor. Grateful people, however, do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life; they simply focus on the potentially positive outcomes that can be discovered.

People with a strong disposition toward gratitude have the capacity to be more empathic and find it easier to take the perspective of others. 

Gratitude does not necessarily require religious faith. However, faith and belief in something enhances the ability to appreciate.

It also appears that grateful individuals place less importance on material goods; they are less likely to judge their own and others’ success in terms of possessions accumulated; they are less envious of others and are more likely to share their possessions with others.

In a comparative study, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer negative physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded neutral life events.

A related benefit was also observed with regards to personal goal achievement. Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals over a two-month period compared to subjects under other experimental conditions.

A daily gratitude intervention with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy.

Participants in the daily gratitude condition were also more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another person.

Research has also identified that children who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and their families.

Gratitude plays a key role in positive illness management and 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 optimism about their lives, and better sleep duration and quality.

Studies also provide evidence that a positive, appreciative attitude enhances the body’s healing system and general health by helping your body to produce more immune-boosting endorphins.

When you hold feelings of thankfulness for at least 15 to 20 seconds, beneficial physiological changes take place in your body. Levels of the stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine decrease, producing a cascade of beneficial metabolic changes. Coronary arteries relax and increase the blood supply to your heart. Your breathing becomes deeper, raising the oxygen level of your tissues.

Gratitude has been the “forgotten factor” in happiness research and scientists are latecomers to the concept of gratitude. 

Religions and philosophies have long embraced gratitude as an indispensable and integral component of health, wholeness and well-being. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is a well worth investment and clearly hosts a multitude of benefits

I hope you like this poem…

Before I close my eyes each night, at the end of every day. There is something very important, that I always like to say

Thank You

Thank you for the things I’ve learnt, they teach me how to know. Thank you for my challenges, they show me how to grow

Thank you for the good times and thank you for the bad. It helps me to appreciate what I have and haven’t had

Thank you for my family and thank you for each friend. You are so very special and all that matters in the end

Thank you for my experiences and thank you for my past. For the magic of the memories through my lifetime that will last

Thank you for my journey and the dreams I’m going to live. Thank you for my future and for the best I’ve yet to give

So before I close my eyes each night what I really want to say. Is thank you for my life and thank you for today.  

 

About the author 

Liggy Webb is an author, presenter and managing director at The Learning Architect, or follow Liggy @liggyw, email liggy@liggywebb.com or visit www.liggywebb.com.

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