It is rare in this complex world that we find answers through profoundly simple actions. When faced with the overwhelming task of contemplating happiness, we often think we will only find true happiness when certain conditions are met (i.e. “I will be happy if…” or “I will be happy when…”). Perhaps some of the most seemingly simple yet compellingly intuitive research of our day surrounds the correlation between happiness and gratitude. As we enter Spring, a season of abundance and newness, let’s take a deep dive into the meaning of gratitude, the research that looks at the connection between gratitude and happiness, and easy ways to incorporate a gratitude practice into your everyday life.
What is gratitude?
Many of us understand gratitude as the action of expressing thankfulness, as in thanking someone for passing you the salad at the dinner table. But in the scientific community, gratitude is not only a passive action, but an emotional state of appreciation. Dr. Robert Emmons, a preeminent researcher and psychologist, provides helpful insight on gratitude:
“Gratitude has been conceptualized as an emotion, a virtue, a moral sentiment, a motive, a coping response, a skill, and an attitude. It is all of these and more. Minimally, gratitude is an emotional response to a gift. It is the appreciation felt after one has been the beneficiary of an altruistic act” (Emmons & Crumpler, 2000).
Further, Emmons posits that gratitude consists of two parts, the recognition of the value that we hold from within, and value that is directed towards us from others. In that, we recognize the internal and external manifestations of giving and gratitude.
Gratitude and the Research
Positive psychology is revolutionary in the way that it perceives of mental health. Traditionally, psychology has embodied a pathological framework. That is, psychology tends to give credence to individual deficits and abnormalities, which are then dealt with through diagnosis and treatment. There is certainly value to this framework, but positive psychology brings necessary information to the table by focusing on individual strengths, resources, and adaptive coping skills. Positive psychology looks at what we are already doing right rather than what is wrong. Multiple positive psychology studies have found correlations between gratitude and happiness, strong interpersonal relationships, a sense of optimism, self-control, and better physical and mental health. Neuroscience has even validated these correlational studies, finding that gratitude triggers areas of the brain associated with morality and virtue.
How to incorporate Gratitude into your life:
Incorporating gratitude in your life does not need to entail a radical shift in your daily schedule. Many find that a simple 5 minute daily practice is incredibly impactful. The following are some creative ways to implement gratitude in your routine:
- Create a Gratitude Journal: Each day, write 3 to 5 things that you are grateful for.
- Write a thank-you note: or text, or email. Express to others that you appreciate them.
- Gratitude Walk: Take a walk outside, challenging yourself to make note of everything in your environment that you are grateful for.
- Give: Give to others. Be it a small gift, money to a charity, or volunteering your time, giving to others expresses that you are grateful for them and the beauty that they give to the world.
- Pause: Take a moment out of your busy day to notice the world around you, and make note of the small things in your surroundings that you are grateful for.
- Collage: Gather pictures, magazine clippings, and stickers of things you are grateful for and tape or glue them to a piece of paper. Display the collage somewhere that you will see it frequently so that it serves as a visual daily reminder to practice gratitude.
- Meditate: Reflect on the things you are most grateful in life. Those things may include your family and friends, sentimental material possessions, or even personal struggles that have given rise to meaningful lessons.
- Gratitude Garden: Write words of gratitude or personal mantras on a piece of paper and bury them deep in the ground. Plant seeds above the paper and see flowers grow from your words of appreciation.
There are many more ways to practice gratitude than those on our simple list. So be grateful for that creative brain of yours, and begin to cultivate your own unique gratitude practice.
And all of us at CSCP are grateful for you