I’m Told To Be Thankful
We’ve all heard that gratitude is the answer to many problems. That being full of gratitude will help you be more resilient and happy, a better boss and partner, and a better human. But I’ve been skeptical when I’ve heard these comments before. So, I want to spend today’s blog asking, “how does being thankful actually help me do these things above?”
The Research Behind Gratitude
There is a surprising amount of scientific research on what consistent gratitude does to our brains and bodies. Here’s some of my favorite research —
First, a primer on gratitude. This white paper defines gratitude as 1) “recognizing that one has obtained a positive outcome” and 2) “recognizing that there is an external source for this positive outcome.” For instance, as the article states, “by attuning people to the thoughtfulness of others, gratitude helps them find or identify people who are good candidates for quality future relationships; it also helps ‘remind’ people of the goodness of their existing relationships; and it ‘binds’ them to their partners and friends by making them feel appreciated and encouraging them to engage in behaviors that will help prolong their relationships.”
Gratitude helps people of all ages avoid materialism. Researchers did an experiment with adolescents who were asked to complete the same four-item gratitude measure and eight-item materialism measure. One group of students kept a gratitude journal, while the other group recorded daily activities. At the end of the study, those who kept a gratitude journal scored higher on the gratitude measure and lower on the materialism measure. Additionally, all students were given $10 for their participation. When given the option to keep or donate the ten $1 bills, the youth who had written about who and what they were thankful for gave away two-thirds of their participation earnings, while those who had recorded daily activities kept more than half of what they earned.
Gratitude can help us through tough times. The linked article says it well — “It is vital to make a distinction between feeling grateful and being grateful. We don’t have total control over our emotions. We cannot easily will ourselves to feel grateful, less depressed, or happy. Feelings follow from the way we look at the world, thoughts we have about the way things are, the way things should be, and the distance between these two points. But being grateful is a choice, a prevailing attitude that endures and is relatively immune to the gains and losses that flow in and out of our lives. When disaster strikes, gratitude provides a perspective from which we can view life in its entirety and not be overwhelmed by temporary circumstances.”
Practicing gratitude instills an optimistic mindset. Psychologists asked participants to write a few sentences each week detailing life occurrences. One group wrote about things they were grateful for, 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 being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about being grateful were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they had also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than the other groups.
Gratitude improves relationships. This 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.
Expressing thanks builds confidence in the workplace. Adam Grant (who I love…..) and Francesca Gino found that by just saying “thanks” to your team, those team members “experience stronger feelings of self-efficacy and social worth, motivating them to engage in prosocial behavior.”
Quote of the Week
“For what it’s worth, it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. I hope you find that if you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald (and thanks to my good friend Yale Scott for posting and sharing this in the first place)