Communication — 25 November 2007
The benefits of being grateful

Gratitude is the core emotion of the Thanksgiving Holiday. Once a year we designate a celebration focused on appreciating what we have and sharing our blessings with others. Regrettably, gratitude is not practiced more commonly on a daily basis.

The dictionary definition of gratitude is: “ a warm and friendly appreciation of a kindness or favor received”. This is an emotion created through interpersonal exchange between people as well as a bi-product of thoughts about one’s blessings. Gratitude has physiological, emotional, social and spiritual benefits that are worth cultivating.

Gratitude researchers Dr. Robert Emmons and Dr. Michael McCollough report in their book “The Psychology of Gratitude” some of the physical benefits as follows: “those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events.” “In a sample of adults with neuromuscular disease, a 21-day gratitude intervention resulted in greater amounts of high energy positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others, more optimistic ratings of one’s life, and better sleep duration and sleep quality, relative to a control group.”

Emotionally, these researchers reported that participants who kept a daily appreciation log showed: “ positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison.”

Socially, these studies also found that participants who practiced daily gratitude were more likely to have helped someone with a personal problem, provided emotional support and showed a stronger capacity for empathy than did those who were in the hassles or neutral groups.

Anyone who has experienced gratitude has felt tenderness, vulnerability, humility and warmth toward the giver and a desire to reciprocate in kind. Though it is humbling to be indebted to another, it also evokes a strong desire to directly repay the kindness or give it to others. Gratitude is a positive human exchange of caring that enriches both the giver and the receiver and connects us all. Cicero said: “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”

All major religions promote gratitude as a valuable practice, Dr. McCullough found that the benefits of thankfulness apply to the general population, regardless of faith or lack thereof. People who count their blessings can improve the quality of their lives and become happier individuals.

Being appreciative of other people’s helpfulness contributes to developing a more positive life view and enjoying a feeling of greater contentment. You need not wait for a favor that exceeds expectations to express your appreciation. In everyday exchanges, tell those who are of service to you how much their actions matter. It breeds shared warmth. To: “Thank you” add: “I appreciate your assistance, you were very helpful to me.” It will make you feel kind and generous, will please the other person and propel him/her to continue providing excellent service to others.

In love relationships, being grateful for the positive traits of your mate and his/her ongoing contributions to your life helps create a cycle of appreciation and goodwill. The personal attentiveness, empathy and mutual enthusiasm grows as pairs focus on appreciating each other.When both partners undertake to voice how truly grateful they are for their shared love, both feel more secure, appreciated and committed to further enhancing their connection.

• Being grateful is not an innate trait, but a learned skill that benefits all. It can be easily added to your other good traits.
• Practice your gratitude daily. Take a few minutes to recite to yourself three ways in which you feel blessed today. A man I know describes it this way: “I am grateful to have a job, have a reliable car that drove me safely to work, have an interesting profession and a good team. It puts me in a positive mindset to start my day.”
• Voice your appreciations to others as often as you can. It spreads goodwill.
• When self-pitying or helpless ideas cross your mind, force yourself to balance them with appreciations. Being grateful is humbling and empowering.
• Identify and appreciate the goodness in others. Positive reinforcement breeds confidence and encourages greater kindness.
• Express your gratitude to your partner for being your mate. Spell the ways your union is a blessing to you. Feeling valued strengthens your partner and induces reciprocal kindness. Mutual gratitude creates a tender and intimate relationship.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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