The Continuing Value of Gratitude

adult-1850177_1280Hopefully, many of us have spent the last weekend giving thanks for our families, friends, and heaping turkey dinners, but don’t put all that gratitude behind you just yet.

According to Dr. Robert Emmons, who studies the emotion of gratitude, cultivating this feeling can promote healthy relationships and psychological, or even physical, health. For over three decades, Dr. Emmons has sought to demonstrate exactly how you can enjoy these benefits.

He praises the notion of gratitude as a “relationship-strengthening emotion,” explaining how it helps connect individuals and affirm our support for each other. Dr. Emmons’ research has shown that the regular expression of gratitude reduces feelings of social isolation and promotes forgiveness, generosity, and compassion.

The benefits extend beyond these social components, however, as Dr. Emmons also claims it can promote positive thinking, better sleep, and stronger immune systems.

In this context, gratitude involves recognizing the good factors in your life and how they come from other people or outside circumstances. This may include focusing on the positive aspects of a given situation or appreciating modest, everyday pleasures. Importantly, we must acknowledge that many of these pleasures come from without and thank the circumstances or people that have made our lives better.

The benefits of gratitude are deeply tied into this practice of giving thanks. By focusing on positive emotions, individuals can diminish or even block negative ones. This helps grateful people better manage stress and develop feelings of self-worth, enabling them to connect with others and feel better about themselves.

Practicing gratitude in this way, Dr. Emmons warns, is not as easy as just flipping a switch: “Just because gratitude is good doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Practicing gratitude can be at odds with some deeply ingrained psychological tendencies.”

Many people succumb to the notion that everything that happens, good or bad, is just the result of what we deserve. If something good happens, it’s because we have worked for that outcome and deserve it. Similarly, we blame ourselves for bad circumstances. This sort of thinking makes gratitude difficult.

But how can we work to better incorporate gratitude into our lives? Dr. Emmons has several suggestions. Initially, he recommends that we simply work harder at identifying positive aspects in our day to day lives, including particularly beautiful moments or friendly interactions with strangers.

From here, he suggests that people start makings lists or journal entries, regularly compiling these observations and describing anything that they grateful for. His research indicates that this sort of journaling can be an important step towards realizing the helpful effects of gratitude.

Most importantly, he emphasizes the actual expression of gratitude. Rather than just making a list, we ought to reach out and thank those that have helped us. This, according to Dr. Emmons, is the most important way of bringing gratitude into our lives beyond the Thanksgiving table.

For more information on the role of gratitude in health and happiness, read our past blogs here and here.

365 Days of Thank You

Inspired by the spirit of gratitude that is amplified each Thanksgiving day, Brian Doyle set out to extend the power of gratitude beyond one holiday in his unique social experiment: “365 Days of Thank You.” Learn how two words can change your world and world view.

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Election Debate

The bitter election may be over, but its tensions are still alive.

Following President-elect Donald Trump’s surprising victory on Election Day, partisan divisions continue to survive amidst heated arguments and even vandalism. In one notable incident, a United Airlines staff had to step in to separate some particularly argumentative passengers.

“If anyone has a problem… and needs to vent or rant or rave, there’s another flight tomorrow. It’s not going to be on this one,” the pilot announced after two passengers engaged in a heated exchange. According to fellow travelers, one passenger praised Trump for his support of firearms, while the other expressed fear given her ethnicity.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Since the election, there have been numerous incidents of pro-Trump vandalism, and anti-Trump protests have sprung up in major U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, Oakland, and New York City. Amidst these conflicts, many on both sides of the aisle have called for unity and reconciliation.

Humintell’s Dr. David Matsumoto observed, “it’s natural to see eruptions of these feelings here and there over time, but the real question is the degree to which it’s going to be sustained. And there, leaders take a very important role.”

President Obama, President-elect Trump, and former Secretary Clinton seem to agree. On Election night, Trump urged “for us to become together as one united people,” while Obama has called for “a sense of unity; a sense of inclusion…and a respect for each other.”

Even, the United Airlines pilot joined this chorus, telling passengers: “As people, we have the common decency to respect each other’s decisions, and to get along on this three hour and 13 minute flight.”

Division and hate can also be encouraged through social media. For more information on this phenomena read our posts here and here.

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