(Excerpt from Health Inspires: Your Way to Sustainable weight Loss, 2017)
Positive psychology holds that there are practices that can increase the long-term positive feelings of happiness. We may all have fleeting moments of happiness, but these practices aim to raise our baseline of happiness to a higher level.
These daily disciplines—including expressing gratitude, practicing meditation and breathing techniques and reciting mantras—are scientifically proven to promote a positive mood, relieve stress, enhance cognitive functioning and promote healthy behaviors. Such disciplines don’t come in a pill, a bottle or from a doctor’s office. They come from you, are executed by you and are done for you. They give you a choice in the present moment that helps you in each future moment. The same positive results can come from exercise, yet these consistent daily disciplines I am speaking of come from the mind.
Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what you have instead of focusing on what you want or what you don’t have.
Gratitude is getting a lot of attention these days, and that is good. It is a simple and free solution to many “problems.” It is not a new concept at all, and in fact, it has withstood the test of time. Practicing the daily discipline of gratitude is the perfect way to focus on all that is working in your life. The practice of gratitude is more powerful and meaningful than “positive thinking.” Positive thinking alone does not create change. Just because you tell yourself you can make it to the next gas station on an empty tank doesn’t mean that you will.
Expressing gratitude promotes feelings that make you more likely to create, achieve, succeed, live in happiness and feel joyful. Expressing daily gratitude rewires your brain, promotes positive feelings and emotions, inspires and helps you see the opportunities before you. It proves to deliver long-lasting positive feelings and enhances emotional and interpersonal wellbeing. (38) It is a virtue to nurture.
Researchers Ken Sheldon and Sonja Lyubomirsky examined the motivational predictors and positive emotional outcomes of regularly practicing two mental exercises in a study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology in 2006. They looked at how expressing gratitude or “visualizing best possible selves” (VBS) might increase and sustain positive emotion over time, as opposed to fleeting moments of happiness. VBS is simply picturing yourself and focusing on that image of your very best self, how you look, how you feel, doing whatever you envision for your life, as if it were already happening. For this study, subjects were divided into three groups: one that practiced the discipline of gratitude every day, one that participated in a VBS exercise every day, and a control group that simply rehashed the events of their day (poor control group)!
What the researchers found was not surprising. The VBS and daily gratitude groups were much happier than those subjects who focused on daily task recitation. The VBS group actually faired a little better than the gratitude group, although the difference was not statistically significant. The reason I share this with you, even as we talk about the benefits of practicing gratitude, is to point out that, as individuals, we may have different preferences for approaching positive affect (how we subjectively experience positive emotions) in our lives.
The researchers recognized that there may have been some people sorted into either the VBS or the gratitude group who would have felt better in the opposite group. Perhaps an individual’s preferences, temperament, beliefs, personality and motivation would have been better matched to the other group. Both methods proved to enhance mood far beyond a recall of daily events. (39) However, each of us needs to discover what works for us personally. Increases in feeling good about life are the highest when the method to boost appreciation fits your interests and values and when it is performed neither too frequently nor too seldom. (40)
To increase and sustain positive emotions, we must engage in appropriate strategies and practices that we perform with effort and habitual commitment. (41) This is consistent with the finding that the pursuit of personal goals boosts wellbeing only if the goals are actually achieved. Achievement is important.
In addition to the positive mental boost, gratitude impacts our physical health, as well. According to Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis and a leading expert on the science of gratitude, the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life. Studies show that a practice of gratitude can:
All of these factors lead to a happier, more fulfilling life.
In her keynote address to the American Heart Association’s (AHA) 2014 Austin “Go Red for Women” event (“Go Red for Women” is the AHA’s fundraising campaign for women’s cardiovascular disease awareness and prevention), Kristin Armstrong said that she practices gratitude every day and takes it one step further. She adds WHY she is grateful. She said in a full year of this practice, “I have not had one bad day.” I promise you, you will not have one bad day, because that is what gratitude does. It makes you the person that Maslow said we could be. You face and handle your problems that are within your control, check them off your list and focus on all the good things in your life.
1. Write down 10 things that you are grateful for (and if that number deters you--then start with ONE thing that you are grateful for). Then, each day, write at least three things that you are grateful for and why you are grateful for them. Make this a consistent daily discipline.
Saying the two words “Thank you” is powerful. We all like to feel appreciated, and those who appreciate are appreciated in return. You just might find that being grateful will help you see opportunities that you may not have seen before.
(38-41) Sheldon, Kennon M., Lyubmirsky, Sonja. How to Increase and Sustain Positive Emotion: The Effects of Expressing Gratitude and Visualizing Best Possible Selves. The Journal of Positive Psychology, April 2006; 1 (2): 73-82.
(42) Emmons, Robert. Greater Good. Why Gratitude is Good. November 16, 2010. Retrieved from http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good. March 1, 2016.
Kathryn Scoblick Copyright
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Disclosure: Always consult with your physician or other qualified health care provider before beginning any diet or exercise program and ask whether you are healthy enough to engage in a diet and exercise program. Never disregard, avoid or delay in obtaining medical advice from your doctor or other qualified health care provider concerning your overall health and wellness, including your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. It is your choice to follow the suggestions, opinions and advice given by a Health Inspires wellness coach.