Focusing less on life’s irritations and more on what we’re grateful for pays dividends in terms of mental and physical health.
Whether you express gratitude in a thank you note, keep a gratitude journal, or make it a practice to count your blessings, researchers say gratitude works. How so? When we zero in on positive experiences, solid relationships, and the blessings of life, we are healthier and feel happier.
Psychologists Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California-Davis and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami studied what happened when volunteers wrote a few sentences each week about their lives. One group focused on irritations and frustrations, a second group wrote about what they were grateful for, and a third group wrote about both positive and negative experiences. Ten weeks later, the second group – the gratitude group – became more optimistic and satisfied with life. Interestingly, the same group also exercised more and had fewer doctor visits.
Similarly, people invited to express their gratitude to someone they hadn’t thanked before showed a considerable increase in their happiness scores. Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania proved that exercise had a more significant impact on people’s moods than other studied activities, and the effect of happiness from that one expression of gratitude lasted about a month.
Are there any groups that don’t experience benefits from adopting a gratitude practice? Perhaps. Children and adolescents have shown slight emotional or physical improvement from the studied gratitude practices. Interestingly enough, in another notable study, neither did middle-aged divorced women. Dr. Patricia Henrie’s research at the University of Utah revealed that writing in gratitude journals wasn’t enough on its own to improve these women’s sense of life satisfaction. Apparently, it takes a certain baseline level of emotional well-being or even emotional maturity to glean the most from gratitude practices – but the research continues!
When we zero in on positive experiences, solid relationships, and the blessings of life, we are healthier and feel happier.