We should find the reasons to be grateful and count our blessings especially this new year. We need to make a conscious effort to focus on what we have and what went right because to be grateful is the secret to health and wellbeing. For thousands of years, “this greatest of virtues and the parent of all others”, said Cicero, have been the subject of philosophers, religious, and spiritual thinkers. But beyond their conjectures, there really have been no hard scientific evidence associating gratitude to psychological and physical wellbeing. Not until recently.
Robert Emmons and Mike McCullough are two psychologists who researched extensively on the effects of gratitude towards health and emotions. They know people associate being grateful with happiness. But associations do not prove causality. The best way to know this was to perform an experiment.
These brilliant psychologists randomly assigned subjects into groups. The first they instructed to keep a daily gratitude journal or gratitude list, the other group focused on hassles, and the control group was neutral. And these are what Emmons and McCullough discovered.
In one experiment, the group of people who kept weekly gratitude journals had significantly better results on a range of psychological and physical well-being measures than the people in either of the two comparison groups. The gratitude journal people exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week than the other two groups (who recorded hassles in one group or neutral life events in the other).
Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal, and health-based) over a two-month period compared to participants in the other experimental groups.
In another study using daily self-guided exercises with young adults, the participants in the gratitude intervention group reported higher levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy than the other two groups (who focused on hassles, or on how they thought they were better off than others). Also, the participants in the gratitude intervention group were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to someone than those in the other two comparison groups.
In a third study, this time of adults with neuromuscular disease, a 21-day gratitude intervention resulted in better sleep duration and sleep quality, greater amounts of high energy positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others, and more optimistic ratings of one’s life, relative to a comparison group.