By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer
Remember the old adage, to “count your blessings” as a tool to feel better about your self and your life? Did you know that maintaining an actively grateful personality can actually provide stress relief?
Robert Emmons at the University of California, Davis and Michael E. McCullough from the University of Miami have maintained a study that attempts to help its participants develop methods to cultivate gratitude in daily life and assess that gratitude’s effect on well-being. They say of the project:
“Gratitude is the “forgotten factor” in happiness research. We are engaged in a long-term research project designed to create and disseminate a large body of novel scientific data on the nature of gratitude, its causes, and its potential consequences for human health and well-being. Scientists are latecomers to the concept of gratitude. Religions and philosophies have long embraced gratitude as an indispensable manifestation of virtue, and an integral component of health, wholeness, and well-being. Through conducting highly focused, cutting-edge studies on the nature of gratitude, its causes, and its consequences, we hope to shed important scientific light on this important concept.”
In the research, the scientists had all participants keep diaries of their lives. One of the groups was instructed to specifically look for the positive things that had happened to them that day, and one was instructed to keep a diary as they normally might. Emmons and McCullough discovered that their participants showed a clear correlation between those who kept a “gratitude journal” and a number of positive factors, including exercising regularly, reporting fewer physical symptoms, feeling better about their lives as a whole, and feeling more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events. Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions.
Not convinced? They also reported that a daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison (ways in which participants thought they were better off than others).
Elizabeth Scott, M.S., About.com’s Stress Management Guide, reminds us that “although we are born with specific tempermental tendencies, the brain is a muscle, and you can strengthen your mind’s natural tendency toward optimism if you work at it.”
Scott offers some helpful suggestions for how to encourage gratitude in your own life:
- Make Gentle Reminders – When you notice yourself beginning to feel negative, try to think of 4 or 5 related things for which you are grateful.
- Be Careful With Comparisons – Focus on yourself, and stop comparing what you have and do to other people.
- Keep a Gratitude Journal – Make it a habit to remind yourself of good things that happen to you every day.
Sue’s Gratitude List
I notice that when I am more consciously grateful of all the good things I have in my life: my family, my friends, my work, my clients, my health, my ability to travel and hike and see wonderful natural beauty as well as the Internet and all the “Dick Tracy” gizmo’s we now have to entertain and communicate, I have much better days and a happier demeaner!
I am grateful you are reading my blog! Start your own gratitude list today and see how you feel. Just list 10 things you are grateful for. Share them with us in the comments if you feel inspired!
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