Countless acts each day involve the interaction of giver, receiver and gift.
Gratitude is the realization that we have much to be thankful for in each of those exchanges.
“Most of us recognize the ways in which our lives are supported and sustained by others,” says Robert Emmons, “…But acknowledging this awareness takes effort.”
I want to concentrate on the effort in this post.
A book that pushed me down the #happier path was The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky. Her book is a collection of her original research and the research of others that points directly at the actions people can take to be #happier.
The first practice in her book is “Express Gratitude.”
Feeling grateful is important, and sharing it is just as important.
Martin Seligman’s practice of gratitude letters is the most documented. Seligman asked his students to write a 300 word letter to someone who they were grateful to have in their lives. He then asked students to arrange a meeting with the letter’s recipient and deliver it to them in person. Seligman told the students not to share the reason for the meeting and present the letter when they arrived. The recounted stories of those who received the letters are as beautiful and emotional as you’d expect.
Seligman, though, was interested in the students. He wanted to know if they would be affected by expressing their gratitude in such a personal and direct way. Seligman followed up with students and he found that students were still affected weeks and even months later. They were #happier for having shared their thanks.
The other equally studied method of expressing gratitude is with a gratitude journal. Oprah gets a lot of credit for publicized the practice in the 1990’s but the research supports that people are 25% #happier, exercise 30% more, and report fewer health issues when they keep a gratitude journal.
Some have focused on follow-on research to examine frequency with which people kept their journals. Some studies found that a weekly accounting of blessings showed greater long-term effects on happiness than those kept a daily gratitude practice. Emmons, who has done the most work researching gratitude, believes that keeping the practice matters the most. In his book, Gratitude Works!, he offers a variety of suggestions:
- Sharing more detail helps maintain a practice. In studies, it was found that writing five lines about one item was better than writing one line about five different things.
- Write about people who have helped you and people who have helped people you love.
- Look for things you take for granted.
- Write about unexpected, novel, or unanticipated events and circumstances. These surprising experiences are intense and can help generate gratitude.
- Be grateful for the negative outcomes that you avoided, escaped, prevented, and redeemed into something positive.
- Along the same vein, think about ways an event might not have occurred. This helps counter the tendency to take benefits for granted.
A daily practice around journaling could involve focusing on one of the items above and moving others on following days. The changing focus maintains a certain variety that avoids fatigue and highlights different ways to invoke gratitude.
If you need a goal, think about 18,256 blessings. That’s how many entries in the journal of Jane Randall of Centerville, Utah. In reaching out to Robert Emmons, she said she tried to list each blessing just once.