By Dr. Robert Emmons
Engulfed by a popular culture saturated with money-driven, stressed out, overweight and depressed men and women, gratitude is seen less and less. However, gratefulness is an important thing to remember to practice because it not only helps us feel good, but inspires us to do good.
Imagine if you could lose weight, become able to forgive easier, and boost your self-esteem just by being happy. Based on my years of research, I have discovered that people can do all these things just by saying “thank you.”
Gratefulness has valuable long-term benefits. It is linked to higher income, a longer life span, more satisfying relationships, less anxiety and higher grades in school. Gratitude takes us outside our comfort zone so we can see ourselves as part of a larger, complicated system full of reciprocal sustaining relationships.
The strong sense of entitlement found among our generations and the fact that it is easier to “like” something on Facebook than show genuine gratefulness both contribute to America being the most depressed country in the world. However, by practicing the virtue of gratitude, we can change that statistic.
While mental discipline is mandatory because gratitude is not an easy virtue to accomplish, the outcome is worth the effort because gratitude heals, energizes and transforms lives in countless ways.
Gratitude is a way of defining life circumstances. It maximizes happiness in multiple ways and one reason why it works is that it helps us reframe memories of unpleasant events in such a way that it decreases their negative emotional impact. It’s hard to feel grateful after a traumatic accident, but it can enable a faster and healthier healing process.
There are tools, such as journaling, reflective thinking and letter writing that help you practice gratitude and eventually train your mind and body to live a grateful lifestyle. Journaling may seem like a time-consuming task, but people who keep gratitude journals are 25 percent happier, sleep one-half hour more per evening and exercise up to 33 percent more each week compared to those who don’t keep journals.
Gratitude impacts every aspect of life, including spending. Have you ever gone to dinner and really appreciated your waiter’s hard work? Restaurant bills on which the server writes “thank you” produce tips that are as much as 11 percent higher than do bills without an expression of gratitude.
Grateful people use words like ‘lucky,’ ‘fortunate’ and ‘blessed’ because they don’t focus on what they’re lacking—they make sure they see the good in what they have. Practice makes perfect so you can too live a happier, healthier life, just don’t forget the power of those two magic words: “thank you.”
– Dr. Robert Emmons is a research professor at University of California at Davis, an expert on the scientifically measured benefits of gratitude, and author of “Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity.”