536: Grateful

What are you most grateful for at this moment?


Full episode script

When things aren’t going so well, it can be so easy to focus on what’s wrong, what’s frustrating, or what’s angering. That high emotion can be so easy to get caught in. At the same time, there’s a large body of research that highlights how much gratitude can help with some parts of life.

As Harvard Health Publishing published in November of 2011:

In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.

Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have done much of the research on gratitude. In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.

One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations 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 sources of aggravation.

Another leading researcher in this field, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people, each compared with a control assignment of writing about early memories. When their week’s assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores. This impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for a month.

Meanwhile, expressing gratitude has also been found in some studies to make individuals more patient, improve relationships (even more so than feeling indebted to your partner or partners), and even improve sleep when you think of things you are grateful for before you go to sleep.

Of course, gratitude isn’t a magic bullet that will fix everything, but searching all over the place, I couldn’t find a single piece of research that said expressing or thinking about thing you’re grateful for will hurt at all. So perhaps it’s worth thinking for a moment about what you’re grateful for.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.