In other words, stay grateful. It’s good for you.
As if we need experts and media to break that news. But just in case…here it is.
Giving thanks on Thanksgiving sounds like a cliche. But evidence is mounting that counting your blessings can make you happier. Think of it as an emotional reset button, psychologists say – especially in tough times like these.
“When you are stopping and counting your blessings, you are sort of hijacking your emotional system,” says Michael McCullough, a University of Miami psychology professor. And he means hijacking it out of a funk and into a good place. Studies by McCullough and others have shown that giving thanks feeds on itself. “It does make people happier,” he says. “It’s that incredible feeling.”
How nice to see this in the news, and hear it from academics and health specialists.
Chicago area psychologist Maryann Troiani says she has her clients ramp up their expressions of gratitude gradually, sometimes starting by limiting them to two whines a session. Eventually, she has them log good things in gratitude journals.
These journals, in which people list weekly or nightly what they are thankful for, are becoming regular therapy tools. And in the journals, it’s important to focus more on the people you are grateful for, says Robert Emmons, a University of California at Davis psychology professor. Focus on what life would be like without the good things – especially people such as spouses – and how you are grateful they’re there, he recommends.
Grateful people feel more alert, alive, interested, and enthusiastic, and more connected to others, says Emmons, who has written two books on the science of gratitude and often studies gratitude diaries.
“Gratitude also serves as a stress buffer,” Emmons said in an e-mail interview. “Grateful people are less likely to experience envy, anger, resentment, regret and other unpleasant states that produce stress.”
It strikes me that this probably used to be common sense, shared wisdom, life experience. That it didn’t take an advanced degree in psychology to learn this. And that it didn’t constitute ‘news.’
But here we are. And now it does.
Christopher Peterson of the University of Michigan studied various gratitude methods and found the biggest immediate improvement in happiness scores was among people who were given one week to write and deliver in person a letter of gratitude to someone who had been especially kind to them.
This didn’t used to have to be an academic exercise. Being one now, however, gives instinctive human behavior a new quality of discovery. Imagine…giving thanks makes you happy.
Peterson says it worked so well that he is adopted it in his daily life, writing from-the-heart thank-you notes, logging his feelings of gratitude: “It was very beneficial for me. I was much more cheerful.”