Google defines gratitude as the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. Robert Emmons, a leading expert on the science of gratitude, offers a two part definition that both affirms the presence of goodness in our lives while also understanding where goodness stems from. Emmons, through the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkely, has spent years studying the affect gratitude has on our minds, bodies and relationships. He maintains gratitude offers a host of positive benefits for those who regularly practice gratitude. He conducted one study with a sample size of roughly 1000 people ranging in ages from 8 to 80. He asked each participant to keep a gratitude journal where they would record things for which they were grateful. Over the course of three weeks, Emmons says he noticed overwhelming positive changes. These ranged from getting a better quality night’s sleep to experiencing more joy, optimism and happiness. They also felt less isolated and lonely.
Gratitude asks us to recognize what is good in our lives. It doesn’t negate the troubles we may experience, but let’s us look past them to see that we do have things to be thankful for on a daily basis. It requires us to focus on the good and not dwell on the bad. Emmons suggests that gratitude humbles us into seeing that goodness may lay outside ourselves. Others in our lives whether our spouses, or friends or even the guy in front of you at Starbucks that paid for your morning latte all offer us gestures of kindness and goodness. Acknowledging and appreciating their acts of kinds is the basis of gratitude.
The study further summarizes that there are several valuable lessons to learn from gratitude.
- It lets us celebrate the present. It seems positive emotions fade quickly and our limbic system prefers new and exciting to stay connected to positive emotions. We learn to adapt to positive things in our lives and as the excitement wares off we begin to take them for granted. Gratitude ties a value to a new home, or a new job making it less likely we will take it for granted. We participate more in life by recognizing and celebrating the good things in our lives rather than adapting to our lives.
- It’s easy to focus on the negative emotions in our lives, like envy, resentment, or regret that decimate our happiness. Gratitude negates these emotions. It helps us to find the things in our lives worth being happy about. If you are too busy being thankful for your garden, you can’t very well be resentful of someone else’s. A study published in the Journal of Research in Personality suggests that being grateful can reduce the duration of depressive episodes.
- People who are grateful often have a greater sense of self-worth. Grateful people realize others see value in them and have helped them get to where they are. When we recognize others see our value, it’s easier to see our own worth.
Practicing gratitude is something the whole family can do. It will teach your children to be thankful for the good in their lives and help you to recognize all of the blessings in your life too. Since Thanksgiving is just a few short weeks away, why not start now. Instead of keeping gratitude journals, find a jar and some scrap paper. Each evening before bed or each morning before school, have everyone write down one thing they are grateful for. Then on Thanksgiving share the scraps of paper with everyone. Some people keep their gratitude jars for an entire year and read the notes New’s Eve to reflect back on all the great things that happened that year.
No matter how you wish to cultivate gratitude in your life or teach your children the value of it, it will greatly benefit your well-being. Make a regular habit in your life just like drinking water, exercising and eating clean.