The Science of Gratitude

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I’ve always felt like the scientific community was a little late on this one: Gratitude. Changes. Lives.

Futurity.org looks at Dr. Robert Emmons’ work on the subject.

“Gratitude is literally one of the few things that can measurably change people’s lives,” Robert Emmons writes in his book Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier. The book outlines 10 strategies for cultivating a feeling of thanksgiving throughout the year.

Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, and Michael McCullough, a psychology professor at the University of Miami, are gathering a large body of novel scientific data on the nature of gratitude, its causes, and its potential consequences for human health and well-being.

So what’s the prescription? Here are Emmons’ suggestions:

  • Keep a gratitude journal. Write down and record what you are grateful for, and then when you need to reaffirm your good lot in life, look back on the journal.
  • Remember the bad. If you do not remind yourself of what it was like to be sick, unemployed, or heartbroken, you will be less likely to appreciate health, your job, or your relationship.
  • Ask yourself three questions every evening. Fill in the blanks with the name of a person (or persons) in your life. What have I received from ___? What have I given to ___? What troubles and difficulty have I caused ___?
  • Learn prayers of gratitude. One Emmons suggests in his book from the Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh: Waking up this morning, I see the blue sky. I join my hands in thanks; for the many wonders of life; for having 24 brand-new hours before me.
  • Appreciate your senses. One approach: Practice breathing exercises.
  • Use visual reminders. For example, Emmons has a refrigerator magnet in his home bearing this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery … today is a gift.”
  • Make a vow to practice gratitude. “Swearing a vow to perform a behavior actually does increase the likelihood that the action will be executed,” the psychologist notes.
  • Watch your language: It influences how you think about the world.
  • Go through the motions. Research shows that emotions can follow behavior.
  • Be creative. Look for new situations and opportunities in which to feel grateful, especially when things are not going well.

Bows, to Will at Integral Options Cafe

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