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Gratitude Really Is Good for You. Here’s What Science Shows

Hadley’s Intro:  My children’s bedtime ritual

was to share one thing they were thankful for

in each day.   This gratitude habit builds a

happy, healthy mindset, backed by science.

Discover why giving, receiving,

and even witnessing gratitude can improve your

well being, especially in difficult times,

courtesy of a NYTimes guest post written 

By Christina Caron
June 8, 2023

In 2022, Stacy Batten said, her “whole year was
on fire.”

Her husband died of cancer, and her father died
after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Her mother was diagnosed with cancer. And she
moved across the country from Seattle to Fairfield
County, Conn., after selling the home that she had
lived in for 26 years.

In her devastation, she noticed that she felt
better when she looked for the good parts of each
day. So she took a large Mason jar and turned it
into a “gratitude jar,” which she now keeps on
her night stand.

Every night, she writes down a few things that she
is grateful for on a scrap of paper and drops it
inside. They are often as simple as “I met a new
neighbor” or “I took a walk with the dog and
my mom.”

“The grief is still there,” Batten, 56, said.
“But writing those daily notes has helped.”

Two decades ago, a landmark study led by the
psychologist Robert A. Emmons sought to understand
how people benefit from gratitude, a question that
scientists had rarely explored until then.

Dr. Emmons’s findings — which suggested that
gratitude may improve psychological well-being —
inspired a spate of additional research. To date,
numerous studies have found that having a grateful
outlook, “counting one’s blessings” and
expressing gratitude to others can have positive
effects on our emotional health as well as on
interpersonal and romantic relationships.

In addition, some studies, but not all, have shown
that gratitude can benefit physical health.

“Gratitude heals, energizes and changes
lives,” Dr. Emmons said. “It is the prism
through which we view life in terms of gifts,
givers, goodness and grace.”

Here’s more about why gratitude is so powerful,
and how can we incorporate it into our daily
lives.

What is gratitude?
Gratitude is a positive emotion that can arise
when you acknowledge that you have goodness in
your life and that other people — or higher
powers, if you believe in them — have helped you
achieve that goodness.

In other words, the sources of the good things
“lie at least partially outside the self,” Dr.
Emmons said.

You might feel gratitude when someone is kind to
you, for example.

But “feeling it is only half the equation,”
said Philip Watkins, a professor of psychology at
Eastern Washington University and the author of
“Gratitude and the Good Life.” Expressing
gratitude is equally important to reap the
benefits of this emotion, he said.

How does it benefit you?
Many studies have asked participants to write
letters of thanks, or to list the positive things
in their lives, and then measured the effects of
those acts.

The results suggest that performing these types of
activities provides mental health benefits —
reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety,
increasing self-esteem and improving satisfaction
with daily life. But some studies have noted that
gratitude interventions are not necessarily more
effective than other kinds of activities to
enhance well-being, like asking people to write
about the details of their day. Even so, that
doesn’t make gratitude activities any less
useful, the experts said.

Multiple studies have shown that expressing
gratitude to acquaintances, co-workers, friends or
romantic partners can offer a relationship
“boost” and “helps bind us more closely,”
said Sara Algoe, a psychologist at the University
of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who has
researched how gratitude aids relationships.

What’s more, when analyzing people’s
dispositions, researchers have found that those
who are more prone to experience gratitude in
their daily lives have lower levels of depression
and sleep better.

And not only does gratitude improve the well-being
of the giver and the recipient, but it may also be
good for those who witness it: Watching an act of
gratitude between two people can cause an observer
to feel more warmth and affinity toward them both.

“What impresses me are the objective,
biologically verifiable outcomes that go beyond
self-report measures,” Dr. Emmons said. For
example, gratitude has also been associated with
lower blood pressure, and, in one pilot study,
higher levels of heart rate variability, a marker
of well-being.

“Gratitude seems to be the gift that keeps on
giving,” Dr. Algoe said.

One moment a day is enough.

The studies on gratitude don’t indicate how
often we ought to express gratitude or how best to
put it into practice. But many experts believe
that a small dose of gratitude, once a day, is
ideal.

“I think the benefits of gratitude activities
truly unfold through long-term habits,” said
Joel Wong, a professor of counseling psychology at
Indiana University’s School of Education, who is
studying whether expressing gratitude in a
six-week group program can help people with
depression.

To develop an enduring gratitude habit, try
linking your gratitude practice to an already
ingrained routine, Dr. Wong said. He chooses to
think about what he’s grateful for in the
morning.

“I try to do it when I first turn on the
computer at work,” he said.

Gretchen Schmelzer, a psychologist in Philadelphia
who regularly incorporates gratitude exercises
into her work with clients, said it could be
especially useful during difficult times. Earlier
this year, she fell while hiking and broke both
legs, leading her to use a wheelchair for six
weeks.

To avoid spiraling into negative thoughts while
she continues to heal, she tells herself each day
to “be thankful for what you can do — and not
let yourself focus on what you can’t do,” she
said.

“Gratitude allows us to look at what we do have
and to feel abundance,” she added.

Finally, although many studies have shown the
value of writing a letter expressing appreciation,
it doesn’t have to be lengthy or time-consuming.
A quick email or text can do the trick.

Be specific.
Imagine that your partner is thanking you for
cleaning up the kitchen after dinner. Which
statement would you rather hear?

“Thank you!”

Or: “I am grateful that you took the reins and
handled all the kitchen duties tonight. I love how
we take turns to give one another a break.”

Specificity matters “because it deepens our
experience of gratitude,” Dr. Wong said. “It
intensifies our grateful emotions and thoughts.”

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Dr. Wong has created a list of 100 questions that
may serve as useful prompts when thinking about
gratitude in a more specific way, whether you are
thanking someone else or listing the things in
your life that you feel grateful for.

When doing this exercise, Dr. Wong suggests
putting pen to paper.

“The act of writing slows down our thinking
process and allow us to ponder more
deliberately,” Dr. Wong said. He added, “By
writing, we retain a permanent record of our
blessings; we can return to our gratitude
journaling months or years later to recall what we
were grateful for.”

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A daily dose of gratitude helps create happy,

sexy love that lasts,

Hadley Finch

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