Trying to appreciate yourself, your life, and those around you is a simple way to improve your mental health and increase your overall well-being. Although maintaining a sense of gratitude has been a major facet of religions worldwide for thousands of years, empirical research has only recently begun to uncover the life-enhancing benefits of this trait. The word gratitude stems from the Latin root gratia, which means thanks, grace, kindness, and gratefulness. The words which contain this root “have to do with kindness, generousness, gifts, the beauty of giving and receiving, or getting something for nothing” (Pruyser, 1976, p. 69). Incorporating gratitude exercises into daily life has been associated with reduced depression symptoms (Seligman et al., 2005) and improvements in physiological and cognitive functioning (McCraty & Atkinson, 2003).
Emmons and McCullough (2003) conducted 3 studies in order to better understand the effects of gratitude. In studies 1 and 2, participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 writing conditions. Participants in condition 1 were asked to write about 5 things that they were grateful or thankful for. Participants in condition 2 were asked to write down up to 5 things that annoyed or bothered them. In condition 3, participants were asked to write about 5 things which recently impacted them. After completing the writing, participants then rated their mood, physical symptoms, amount of exercise they engaged in, and their overall well-being. Depending on the study, participants were either asked to write weekly (study 1) or daily (study 2).
In study 1, participants in the gratitude condition had significantly more positive and optimistic ratings of their lives, spent more time exercising, and reported fewer physical symptoms compared to the other conditions. In study 2, participants in the daily gratitude condition reported significantly higher levels of positive emotion compared to the other conditions. Those in the gratitude conditions were also more likely to report an instance where they provided emotional support to someone in need. The daily gratitude condition in study 2 showed stronger effects than the weekly gratitude condition in study 1, indicating that the positive benefits of gratitude are more apparent when individuals remind themselves of the what they are thankful for on a daily basis.
Want to enjoy the benefits of gratitude? Begin to cultivate a sense of gratitude for yourself, your life, and others around you by setting aside time daily or weekly to write about the things in your life that you are thankful for. Practicing a gratitude meditation daily or weekly can help develop a positive, thankful outlook on life. Another powerful tool that will help develop gratitude is expressing thanks to one person in your life either daily or weekly. It could be as simple as thanking the person who bagged your groceries at the store or giving a compliment to a coworker. Keep it short and sincere. Experiment with these gratitude techniques and see what benefits they bring into your life.
Emmons, R.A. & McCullough, M.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.
McCraty, R. & Atkinson, M. (2003). Psychophysiological coherence. Boulder Creek, CA: HeartMath Research Center, Institude of HeartMath, Publication No. 03-016.
Pruyser, P. W. (1976). The minister as diagnostician: Personal problems in pastoral perspective. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
Seligman, M.E.P., Steen, T.A., Park, N. & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410–421.