In the UK we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but to me it seems a great idea – a day set aside to say thank you. That seems more meaningful than having an extra day holiday to celebrate a Royal Wedding, one participant of whom may by accident of birth be set to “rule” us!
Some people keep a gratitude journal or diary, which at first seems a bit woo~woo or bound with religious practices. However, research has shown that such an activity does help. A study carried out at the University of California, Davis found that:-
In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).
Research has also found “gratitude” benefits in goal attainment, grade scores of students, lower blood pressure and improve immune function. In fact Professor Emmons, co-author of that research and other experiments on gratitude says
“The evidence that cultivating gratefulness is good for people is overwhelming…gratitude enhances nearly all spheres of human experience”
Putting aside gratitude journals – which I assume are never shared – what about sharing gratitude with others? When I was a child we were virtually forced to write thank you letters to relatives for our various Christmas and birthday gifts. Making the effort to say thank you via letters or cards isn’t something many still practice.
I’m not sure how much its transferred to new mediums, such as email or Facebook. Communication may be easier, but to say thank you may not be so easy? Emmons suggests that we may be reluctant to give thanks or appreciation as it makes us feel obligated to others, or makes us feel less self sufficient. That sounds a bit weak.
I do agree with his other suggestion that, unfortunately, we tend not to notice positive things in our life – sliding out of our mind as if Teflon. Whereas anything negative clings to our memory like Velcro.
Learn to Say Thank You
What’s important to distinguish is there are the two strands to gratitude, inward and outward. It appears that we are now starting to see the benefits of inward gratitude – or grateful thinking – particularly as a way to be happier.
Last week the BBC listed “Writing down good things that happen to you and a letter expressing your gratitude” as part of a feature on their Breakfast Show. On the site they have a Happiness Challenge Workbook that’s worth downloading.
But whilst I can’t quote any evidence, part of me feels we should also be refocussing on the outward strand. Getting into the habit of sharing thanks, genuine gratitude, with others. Whether saying “thank you”, sending a card, letter or email – or even a small gift – this does seem a simple habit to get into.
I have mentioned the Emmons & McCullough study in a previous post, Can Gratitude Make a Difference? Yes it can! I need to start using more confident language in my post title. And we all need to think about how we can incorporate gratitude in our lives. Leave your comments below, and I will say thank you.
photo by woodleywonderworks on Flickr
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