Before you start throwing stones at me, I want to clarify what I mean when I suggest that you take the thanks out of Thanksgiving. What would your life look and feel like if you gave thanks every day instead of narrowing it down to one day per year? I’d bet my bottom dollar that your life would be much better than what it is now.
Don’t just take my word for it. There have been numerous studies conducted by psychologists in the field of positive psychology indicating that thankfulness and gratitude can greatly impact your well-being. I’d like to share just a few of these with you.
Studies on Thankfulness and Gratitude
Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami have done extensive research on gratitude. In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.
One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.
Another pioneer in the study of gratitude is Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist in the field of positive psychology based out of the University of Pennsylvania. In one study, he tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people, each compared with a control assignment of writing about early memories.
When their week’s assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores. This impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for a month.
Researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania randomly divided university fund-raisers into two groups. One group made phone calls to solicit alumni donations in the same way they always had. The second group — assigned to work on a different day — received a pep talk from the director of annual giving, who told the fund-raisers she was grateful for their efforts. During the following week, the university employees who heard her message of gratitude made 50% more fund-raising calls than those who did not.
As you can see, thankfulness and gratitude help you refocus on what you have instead of what you lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice creating new neural pathways in your mind.
How Can You Cultivate Gratitude?
1. Keep a Gratitude Journal
Make it a habit to write down a few things that you are grateful for each day. As you write, be specific and draw gratitude into your heart. This is a very powerful practice that increases your health and overall well-being.
2. Say Thank You
Expand your horizon and say thank you to people you never thought to thank. Really allow this feeling of gratitude to flow through you.
3. Write Thank-You Letters
According to psychologist, Robert Emmons at the University of California, author of Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, a powerful exercise to cultivate gratitude is to compose a “gratitude letter” to a person who has made a positive and lasting influence in your life.
Emmons says the letter is especially powerful when you have not properly thanked the person in the past, and when you read the letter aloud to the person face to face.
4. Give Back
How can you be of service to others? Studies indicate that volunteering helps people feel more socially connected, thus warding off loneliness and depression.
Volunteering has positive implications that go beyond mental health. A growing body of evidence suggests that people who give their time to others might also be rewarded with better physical health—including lower blood pressure and a longer lifespan.
5. Share Your Gratitude
You can share your gratitude by offering everyone you meet a smile, performing random acts of kindness, or simply giving someone a heartfelt compliment.
Feast on the cornucopia of thankfulness and gratitude each day and your life will transform for the better.