“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero
Cicero argued that from gratitude springs hope, kindness, courage, patience, generosity, wisdom, wisdom and so on. So is it possible that simply by practising gratitude, we could improve our lives? Be more content?
Gratitude has been around in most world religions and philosophy for millennia and science is now catching up. Since Seligman’s announcement of 2000 the American Psychology movement has been researching Happiness of which an integral part of that research, under the direction of Dr Robert Emmons, has been on Gratitude; its nature, its causes and its impact on human health and well-being.
Here is a brief summary of Emmon’s research findings:
· Those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events.
· Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions.
· A daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison.
· Participants in the daily gratitude condition were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another.
· Children who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and their families.
So it seems the evidence is pointing towards the possibility that, when people express their gratitude and are of a grateful disposition, people tend to have higher levels of subjective well-being or happiness and are generally less stressed. They suffer less with feelings of depression or anxiety and self-worth issues. They tend to be more independent, learn well from life’s lessons, develop healthy coping strategies, are more generous, sleep better, have a greater sense of fulfilment. People who exercise gratitude also appear to have less negative coping strategies, being less likely to try to avoid the problem, deny there is a problem, blame themselves, or cope through substance use.
Gratitude has been said to have one of the strongest links with mental health of any character trait. Numerous studies suggest that grateful people are more likely to have higher levels of happiness and lower levels of stress and depression. In one study concerning gratitude, participants were randomly assigned to one of six therapeutic intervention conditions designed to improve the participant’s overall quality of life (Seligman et. all., 2005). Out of these conditions, it was found that the biggest short-term effects came from a “gratitude visit” where participants wrote and delivered a letter of gratitude to someone in their life. This condition showed a rise in happiness scores by 10 percent and a significant fall in depression scores, results which lasted up to one month after the visit. Out of the six conditions, the longest lasting effects were caused by the act of writing “gratitude journals” where participants were asked to write down three things they were grateful for every day. These participants’ happiness scores also increased and continued to increase each time they were tested periodically after the experiment. In fact, the greatest benefits were usually found to occur around six months after treatment began. This exercise was so successful that although participants were only asked to continue the journal for a week, many participants continued to keep the journal long after the study was over.
What makes gratitude the parent of all other virtues? Well if we takea look at Albert Ellis’s model of CBT, Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), it has a strong basis in stoic philosophy and he, as the Stoics, recognised that we disturb ourselves by the beliefs we hold about events. REBT’s theory identifies four beliefs that generally lead us to disturb ourselves. They are:
* Demanding something must or must not be (when it blatantly is).
* Awfulising the end of the world catastrophe when the demand is not met.
* Low Frustration Tolerance to the unberableness of what is happening or is not happening with thoughts like “ It’s unbearable, I cannot stand it”
* Self. Other or World Damming
So practising gratitude helps us to maintain a wider perspective , keeps us from “awfulising” beliefs that lead us to think the world is about to come to an end when the washing machine breaks down. Gratitude helps us to recognise that our first world problems are exactly that, first world problems and our lives do not depend on their resolution. By stopping our “awfulising” beliefs we reduce our feelings of anxiety and experience greater sense of physical ease, in turn we are able to feel more comfortable, reducing our “Low Frustration Tolerance” to discomfort or the unbearableness of our situation.
“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has” ~ Epictetus
Ways to Practice Gratitude
Before you implement a gratitude practice, there are a few things you should know that might help:
Remember, the goal is to actively practice gratitude, not just wait around to feel grateful. It doesn’t matter exactly how often you practice gratitude; what matters is that you do it routinely. Every day, once a week, three times a week–whatever works for you, just keep it consistent.
* Gratitude journal: This is the most common gratitude practice, and one of the most effective according to research. Get yourself a journal and write down 5 things you are grateful for. Try not to repeat items too often. You can do this each night before bed, or once a week, but do it regularly. It’s not how often you do it that counts—it’s how regularly.
* Gratitude Letter & Visit: Think of someone who has made a powerful impact on your life, write a letter of gratitude, and then visit and read it to them in person is the most powerful gratitude exercise you can do according to Seligman’s research.
* Say “Thank You” more often. Just start saying it. For everything. Everyone likes to be thanked, and you will feel more joy just for saying it.
* Write Thank You Notes. When someone touches your heart, write them a note. “Thanks for being a great friend” is simple but very effective. Texts and emails are good second best.
Thank you for reading this