Imagine that you have just finished wrapping a present for a loved one. The gift is an expression of your feelings for this person. Now, what sense would it make to toss it in the garage to collect dust, rather than actually giving it? William Arthur Ward once wrote: “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
One of the most lamentable tragedies in American society isn’t just the lack of gratitude felt, but the failure to express it. Indeed, by keeping our grateful feelings to ourselves, we deprive the people we love of that which they might need the most. Showing our thankfulness is one of the healthiest actions we can take, yet we often remain unaware of its significance.
Gratitude Breeds Happiness
What if someone told you there was a way to make yourself happy at any moment during your everyday life? You might blow them off as some whacked-out snake oil salesman. But showing gratitude is one of the easiest ways to boost your mood and ward off stress and depression.
Those who created the above video did a small study analyzing levels of happiness. The participants were instructed to write about someone for whom they were grateful. Unbeknownst to them at the time, they were also going to call that person and recite their letters. The informal study revealed that the participants were happier after expressing gratitude than they were beforehand. But there have also been – and the video links to one – more formal studies.
Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, published a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology examining the impact of thankfulness on happiness. During the experiment, participants were divided into three separate groups. Each was instructed to keep daily journals on gratitude, annoyances, or neutral events. At the end of the ten-week study, those who were directed to write about events they appreciated reported that they had fewer physical ailments and were more optimistic. The group who wrote about annoyances were noticeably less happy, and the neutral group stayed, well, neutral.
It is worth pointing out that while practicing gratitude will make you happier, it will also make those around you happier when you choose to express it.
Gratitude and Productivity
Gratitude has proven to be an effective motivator for business owners and employees. Indeed, if you practice it on a regular basis, you can become more productive while getting others to do their best work as well. Emmons noted, “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 subjects in the other experimental conditions.”
Researchers at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania conducted a study examining the impact of gratitude on work performance. They analyzed the performance of fund-raisers who were tasked with soliciting donations from alumni, dividing them into two groups. The first operated as usual – but the second group received a pep talk from their manager, who showed how thankful he was for the work they were doing. Over the course of a week, the fund-raisers who were shown appreciation performed 50% better than the others.
When workers are shown gratitude for their labor, they are more likely to strive to be more productive, knowing that their effort is appreciated. This sounds like common sense, right? But how many bosses have you had who actually put gratitude into action with those who work under them? Exactly. If you are a leader, a few words of thanks will help you motivate your employees more effectively.
Health Benefits of Gratitude
Studies have shown that those who live a life of gratitude tend to take better care of themselves while adopting healthy habits. It has been shown that gratefulness can:
- Improve your immune system.
- Reduce depression.
- Make you mentally tougher.
- Help you get better sleep.
When you’re thankful, you are better equipped to deal with stress and negative events that occur in your life. It does not eliminate negative emotions, but it helps you handle them in a healthier way.
One study examined Vietnam War veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One group was told to keep a gratitude journal while the other was not. Not surprisingly, the diary-keeping vets dealt with their symptoms far better than those who did not.
How to Practice Gratitude
Now that you understand the positive effects of gratitude, it is essential that you know how to put it into action. Fortunately, this is not at all difficult. Many people keep a gratitude journal. They write three to five things for which they are grateful at the beginning or end of their day. Engaging in this routine can bring incredible benefits to your everyday life, but if you truly want to experience the life-changing nature of Thanksgiving, you might want to go further than just writing about it. The true power of gratitude comes from expressing it to the people who have positively affected your life. Put simply, there isn’t much that will feed your soul more than telling someone how they made a difference in your life.
Science has demonstrated that gratitude makes you happier, healthier, and more productive. When you embrace this practice, you reap tremendous rewards in your personal, professional, and spiritual life, and – just as importantly – you become a blessing to others.
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