An Attitude of Gratitude
2020 has been a year for the record books. We have lived through one of the most turbulent times in recent memory and we still have a way to go. As the year comes to an end, this is the customary time to slow down a little bit and reflect. It is a time to reflect on those people who are most important to us, our successes and failures, and our hopes for the future. One thing that we often do not spend enough time on is being in the present, and even more importantly, being thankful and grateful for where we are and what we have. We all tend to naturally focus on what didn’t go our way, our regrets, what we don’t have, etc., What’s more is that we never seem to feel at peace when we dwell on these thoughts and in fact, we often feel worse.
With that in mind, it is imperative now more than ever to find our inner calm and to be grateful. Gratitude is not easy and if not in the habit, it does not come naturally.
For those that do have an attitude of gratitude, the results are clear. 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.
Other studies have looked at how gratitude can improve relationships. For example, a study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.
More data regarding gratitude: (data gratefully purloined from Krista Jordan, Ph.D.)
Gratitude is related to a 10 percent improvement in sleep quality in patients with chronic pain, 76 percent of whom had insomnia, and 19 percent lower depression levels.
Keeping a gratitude diary for two weeks produced sustained reductions in perceived stress (28 percent) and depression (16 percent) in health-care practitioners.
Gratitude is related to 23 percent lower levels of stress hormones (cortisol).
Practicing gratitude led to a 7-percent reduction in biomarkers of inflammation in patients with congestive heart failure.
Two gratitude activities (counting blessings and gratitude letter writing) reduced the risk of depression in at-risk patients by 41 percent over a six month period.
Dietary fat intake is reduced by as much as 25 percent when people are keeping a gratitude journal.
A daily gratitude practice can decelerate the effects of neurodegeneration (as measured by a 9 percent increase in verbal fluency) that occurs with increasing age.
Grateful people have 16 percent lower diastolic blood pressure and 10 percent lower systolic blood pressure compared to those less grateful.
Writing a letter of gratitude reduced feelings of hopelessness in 88 percent of suicidal inpatients and increased levels of optimism in 94 percent of them.
Grateful people (including people grateful to God) have between 9-13 percent lower levels of Hemoglobin A1c, a key marker of glucose control that plays a significant role in the diagnosis of diabetes.
How can we put gratitude into practice?
(these suggestions were gratefully found on the Harvard Health website)
Write a thank-you note. You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person's impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month. Once in a while, write one to yourself.
Thank someone mentally. No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.
Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one thoughts about the gifts you've received each day.
Count your blessings. Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.
Pray. People who are religious can use prayer to cultivate gratitude.
Meditate. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Although people often focus on a word or phrase (such as "peace"), it is also possible to focus on what you're grateful for (the warmth of the sun, a pleasant sound, etc.).
All of these activities serve to make gratitude a natural thought pattern. If practiced consistently, an attitude of gratitude soon becomes natural and you will find that your quality of life dramatically improves.