Dr. Robert Emmons, known as Father Gratitude and author of Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier, has been studying gratitude for a decade and has authored several books on what’s being called positive psychology. The research has uncovered some significant benefits to having an attitude of gratitude. Studies show that the practice of gratitude can increase happiness levels by 25% and overall health by, for example, increasing the quantity and quality of sleep. Beneficial outcomes can be achieved by such simple practices as praying, writing in a gratitude journal, placing a thankful phone call, making a mental gratitude list, or writing a gratitude letter to someone.
Gratitude is primarily studied by self-reporting, but, for you skeptics, there are increasingly promising results measuring hard scientific data such as cortisol and stress levels, heart rate variability, and brain activation patterns. Some studies are showing how mindfulness practices like gratitude can actually rewire the frontal lobes.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but let’s talk about what gratitude is, exactly. It’s a feeling of thankfulness and appreciation; seeing the glass half full instead of half empty; viewing a day as partly sunny instead of partly cloudy. Gratitude is a shift in perspective and a conscious choice. In any situation, you can choose a feeling of lack or abundance, choose a state of complaint or gratitude. Every day, in every circumstance, this choice is available to you.
At first, it may be difficult to see life from this angle and even feel forced or fake. That’s OK. With regular practice over time, being grateful becomes a habit and a default setting which shows up more than just at Thanksgiving. I know, for me, the experience of gratitude has drastically changed my life.
I began my practice at a time in my life when I had just tried to commit suicide resulting in a serious brain injury. I could barely walk with any coordination or talk understandably. Because of the suicide attempt and my mental condition, I had lost custody of my two sons. Being appreciative DID feel fake. However, the alternative, focusing on all that was wrong in my life, only made me feel worse by perpetuating the feelings of hopelessness and pain. Even though, I had no idea what I was doing, it worked.
There really is no “right” or “wrong” way here. “Right” is whatever is right for you.
I may have to get out the magnifying glass, at times, but I can always find something for which to be grateful these days.