Gratitude is defined as much more than being thankful. Robert Emmons (a leading gratitude researcher), defines gratitude as “a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life” (Lyubomirsky, 2007). While being thankful can sometimes come across as little more than a platitude, according to Emmons, showing gratitude is something we should really feel, being mindful of the sensation wandering through our minds and bodies.
It is important to acknowledge the amount of control we have over our happiness. Lyubomirsky, in her book “The How of Happiness”, explains what makes up our happiness.
- 50% of our happiness is based on our genetic predisposition, our set point.
- 10% is based on life circumstances, what we may be going through at a particular time.
- 40% is based on us, our intentional activity can increase or decrease our level of happiness.
- 40% seems like quite a lot of free choice to me, and I love the idea of creating, or building our own happiness. Practicing gratitude is only a part of this, there are so many more things we can do to impact our individual levels of happiness.
Through research, gratitude has been correlated with many benefits, including increased:
- Number of positive emotions experienced
- Helpfulness and empathy towards others
- Spirituality and religious practices
Gratitude has also been correlated with decreased:
- Neurotic behaviour
These benefits are much more than the “because I said so” you may have gotten from your grandmother, they are completely backed by research studies. The first time I started intentionally practicing gratitude I was surprised by the results. I started going out of my way to look for things making me happy and was suddenly noticing the cute older couple sitting waiting for the bus, the clouds, or a comment I appreciated. I started looking for wonderful things, and noticed I wasn’t focusing on things I didn’t like, and instead found unpleasant things easier to deal with and move forward from.
Specifically, the practice of gratitude boosts happiness in 8 ways:
- Gratitude promotes the enjoyment of positive life experiences
- Gratitude supports increased self-worth and self-esteem
- Gratitude helps people cope with stress and trauma
- Gratitude encourages people to help others
- Gratitude builds new and existing social bonds
- Gratitude decreases the likelihood we will compare ourselves to the Jones’ next door
- Gratitude doesn’t allow for us to experience negative emotions at the same time
- Gratitude decreases the likelihood of us adapting to our current state of pleasure
There are multiple ways we can practice gratitude, through journaling, writing letters, or expressing it aloud. The most important thing is to ensure it suits your lifestyle and works for you. Lyubomirsky suggests practicing gratitude once a week so it doesn’t end up feeling like a chore. Whatever you choose, pay attention and note the differences in many different areas of your life.
Karyn is a Registered Psychologist, who primarily practices from a Cognitive Behavioural perspective. She received training from Dr. David Burns, and loves collaborating with her clients to find the thoughts and actions creating obstacles in their lives, and leading them through steps to test if these thoughts and actions are true and helpful.
Lyubomirsky, 2007. The How of Happiness: A new approach to getting the life you want. USA: The Penguin Press.