Gratitude is a state of mind that occurs when we acknowledge something good in our lives. We can be grateful for people, events, things, but gratitude doesn’t have to be the result of a positive life circumstance. Sometimes we can even feel grateful for a bad experience that taught us something.
Researchers Monica Bartlett and David DeSteno devised an experiment where they prompted gratitude in study participants by having someone help them with a computer problem (which the researchers caused). Shortly afterward, the participants encountered someone who needed help. Study participants who received help were willing to spend more time helping others than did the those who did not receive help (Bartlett & DeSteno, 2006).
Sociologist Georg Simmel labeled gratitude the “moral memory of mankind” because gratitude encourages us to acknowledge gifts and motivates us to repay them or pay them forward. With gratitude, people recognize the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually realize the source of that goodness lies to some extent outside of themselves. As a result, gratitude helps people identify with something beyond themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.
Research also shows gratitude is associated with striking health benefits. Numerous studies by Dr. R. A. Emmons, one of the foremost experts in the study of gratitude, found that people who are grateful report fewer illnesses, are less concerned with aches and pains, sleep better, and have stronger immune systems (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). Other research shows gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness and helps people deal with adversity, and build strong relationships (Fredrickson, 2009). Regardless of current level of someone’s gratitude, it’s something we can successfully cultivate further and grows stronger with use and practice.
With all these benefits, it might be worth finding ways to practice being grateful. Here are a few ideas for you to start spreading a little gratitude:
- Express Gratitude to a Stranger
Find an opportunity to express sincere gratitude to an acquaintance or someone who provided you a service (e.g. a parking attendant or receptionist)
- Three Blessings
Start each day with saying to yourself three things you are grateful for
- Reinforce Feelings of Gratitude
Consider a time when someone expressed their gratitude to you. Describe how you felt
I felt __________when ___________ expressed their gratitude to me for ________________.
Bartlett, Monica; DeSteno, David.(2006). “Gratitude and Prosocial Behavior”. Psychological Science, 17(4), 319-325.
Emmons, Robert A.; McCullough, Michael E. (2003). “Counting Blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-389.
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