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5 Benefits of Gratitude and 4 Tips to Cultivate It

Move over mindfulness, gratitude has arrived! Here are 5 reasons to celebrate your own small-‘t’-thanksgiving, plus 4 tips to cultivate your own attitude of gratitude.

By
Ellen Hendriksen, PhD,
August 15, 2014
Episode #032

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Gratitude has roared onto the positive psychology scene. And while it’s intuitive that feeling thankful and appreciative improves our outlook—and indeed, our lives—why is it so good for us? What does it do?

This week, we look at 5 benefits of gratitude, and 4 tips for celebrating your own small-‘t’-thanksgiving.

Benefit #1: Gratitude Bonds Us to Other People

Gratitude is a social emotion. As we navigate through a social world, social emotions give us feedback about our interactions with others. But unlike embarrassment, shame, or contempt, gratitude is a positive social emotion that helps bond us to others. When we feel thankful and appreciative of others, we feel closer to them. And Psych 101, plus about a zillion studies, will tell you that strong social connections make us happier and healthier.

Dr. Martin Seligman, founder of the positive psychology movement, along with some colleagues carried out what was quite possibly the world’s happiest study in 2005. In it, they asked participants to try five different happiness exercises. Most exercises were focused on the self—for example, the participant listed positive traits or good things in his or her life.

In an exercise called The Gratitude Visit, however, participants were asked to write and hand-deliver a letter of gratitude to someone in their life who had been especially kind to them, but who was never properly thanked. As a result, happiness scores rocketed up, and depression scores plunged—more so than for any other exercise. Plus, the gains lasted for a full month, possibly due to the social bonding inherent in the gesture.

Benefit #2: Gratitude Is the Opposite of Depressive Rumination

Gratitude wears rose-colored glasses, but not in a naïve way. Gratitude is not deluding yourself into thinking the past was better than it was; instead, it’s deliberately choosing to focus on, and feel thankful for, the good in life.

By contrast, rumination comes from seeing the world through gray-colored glasses—playing those old tapes of bad luck, criticism, or lousy decisions over and over again. So how does the color of our glasses affect us?

In 2003, researchers carried out a study they called, “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens.” It was minimal; participants wrote down just a few phrases a week. But here’s the difference: one group wrote about things they were grateful for, with resulting entries like, “the generosity of friends,” and “the Rolling Stones.” Another group wrote about disappointments and irritations, like “a messy kitchen no one will clean,” and “stupid people driving.” A third group wrote about neutral events, like “flew back to Sacramento,” or “cleaned out my shoe closet.” 

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