'Tis the season to be jolly! Yet for many people, the holidays can also be synonymous with stress. One way to make sure you experience the warmth of the season is to slow down and remember to acknowledge all the things and people in your life that make you feel grateful.
What is gratitude? Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what you receive, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, you acknowledge the goodness in your life. And because, in the process, you recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside yourself, gratitude also helps you connect to something larger than your individual experience — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.
In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish positive experiences, have better health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
As a signature strength, gratitude is felt and expressed in multiple ways. It can be applied to:
- the past (retrieving positive memories and being thankful for elements of your childhood or past blessings)
- the present (not taking things for granted as they come)
- the future (being hopeful and optimistic that there will be good things arriving).
Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Mike McCullough of the University of Miami examined the impact of keeping a gratitude journal. All participants in their study were asked to write a few sentences each week, focusing on five things. One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily hassles 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 hassles.
Gratitude is a way to step off the hedonic treadmill, appreciating what you have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make you happier, or thinking you can't feel satisfied until your every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps you refocus on what you have instead of what you lack.
Try keeping a gratitude journal and make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one the gifts you've received each day.
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