Today is World Gratitude Day, a tradition started in 1977 by the United Nations Meditation Group. Virtually all faith traditions and many philosophers have long recognized and encouraged thanksgiving. Now, modern science has joined the conversation with insights of its own.
In one of the first gratitude studies, researchers found that those who kept a gratitude journal enjoyed better health and greater happiness than those who compiled a list of complaints or who recorded neutral life events.
They slept better, exercised more and had fewer health complaints. They also tended to make better progress toward personal goals.
In another study, those who took a vow to practice gratitude were more likely to reach their goals.
Grateful people have the capacity to be empathic and are more generous and helpful in their social networks, according to a 2002 study.
The same study found grateful people to be more likely to acknowledge a belief in the interconnectedness of all life and a commitment and responsibility to others. They tend to be less envious of others and more willing to share their possessions.
The word “practice” comes up a lot in the literature on gratitude. The benefits of thankfulness do not accrue with the occasional thank-you. They take effort — regular and concerted effort. Meditating on gratitude or keeping a gratitude journal are two oft-recommended ways to cultivate a grateful way of life.
Perhaps the greatest challenge to practicing gratitude as a way of life is life itself when it seems to be dealing you a bad hand.
We are bombarded daily with dire news about the economy — the Dow is down, unemployment is up, folks are bracing for a glum holiday season.
But authentic thanksgiving does not turn its head when bad things happen to good people. Instead, it embraces the negative.
Although it might seem counterintuitive, one suggestion for cultivating gratitude is to remember the bad. By recollecting your sorrows, your losses, your mistakes, you are reminded you survived them, you weathered them and here you are.
By comparing then to now, we are reminded that things could be worse.
Robert Emmons, often called the father of gratitude studies, offers several suggestions for making gratitude a part of your daily life: Keep a daily journal in which you list three things you’re grateful for; learn prayers or passages of gratitude from spiritual or secular sources; use visual clues — nothing works like a well-placed sticky note; pay attention to your senses — cooking mindfully is a good way to build gratitude; and if you’re having trouble feeling grateful, go through the motions until you feel a genuine sense of thankfulness.
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