The Relationship Between Happiness and Gratitude
It’s easy to get sideswept by everything that’s going wrong. Maybe you’re not feeling 100 percent, or work is inducing stress. Perhaps you got into a fight with a significant other and wish that exchange never occurred. Now what happens if you exert a sense of gratitude? What if you focus on everything that is going right?
Thank goodness you’re in general good health, and at least you have work to do (however frustrating it can be).
Fighting also never is enjoyable, but you know that the connection between the two of you certainly can override the rocky grounds.
When realizing that there can always be gratefulness for what you do have, you will be one step closer to peace.
In Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, she refers to gratitude as “a kind of meta-strategy for achieving happiness.”
“Gratitude is many things to many people,” she says. “It is wonder; it is appreciation; it is looking on the bright side of a setback; it is fathoming abundance; it is thanking someone in your life; it is thanking God; it is ‘counting blessings.’ It is savoring; it is not taking things for granted; it is coping; it is present-oriented.”
Lyubomirsky’s research demonstrates that expressing gratitude has several benefits. People who are grateful are likely to be happier, hopeful and energetic, and they possess positive emotions more frequently. Individuals also tend to be more spiritual or religious, forgiving, empathetic and helpful, while being less depressed, envious or neurotic.
In one particular study, a group of participants was asked to write down five things that generated gratefulness once a week for ten weeks. In the other control groups, participants were asked to list five hassles or major events that occurred that past week. The results illustrated that those who expressed gratitude tended to feel more satisfied and optimistic with their lives. Their health received a boost as well; fewer physical symptoms (such as headaches, acne, coughing or nausea) were reported, and they spent more time exercising. It’s therefore been noted that gratitude investigations depict a correlation between mental and physical health.
In addition, gratitude fosters happiness, making it easier to cope with stress and trauma. A positive perspective allows you to obtain a better grasp on suffering. “Expressing gratefulness during personal adversity like loss or chronic illness, as hard as that might be, can help you adjust, move on, and perhaps begin anew,” Lyubomirsky says. In the days following September 11, 2001, gratitude was found to be the second most commonly held emotion (sympathy was the first).
Dennis Prager, author of Happiness is a Serious Problem, discusses gratitude in his book as the secret to being happy. However, he believes expectations undermine gratitude and therefore undermine happiness. “The more expectations you have, the less gratitude you will have. If you get what you expect, you will not be grateful for getting it.” He suggests lowering expectations, particularly pertaining to circumstances beyond your control, in order to bring gratitude to fruition.
Finally, Lyubomirsky talks about ways to express gratitude, one of which is to compose a letter to someone who has had a great impact on your life. You can read it to the person face-to-face or over the phone, but a study has shown that writing a letter without sending it automatically leads to happiness as well. Lyubomirsky had her class of undergraduate students write a gratitude letter, which she describes as a poignant and moving exercise. One of her students spoke of the process.
“I felt overwhelmed with a sense of happiness. I noticed I was typing very quickly, probably because it was very easy for me to express gratitude that was long overdue. As I was typing, I could feel my heart beating faster and faster…towards the end of the letter, as I reread what I had already written, I began to get teary-eyed and even a little bit choked up. I think my expressing gratitude to my mom overwhelmed me to such a point that tears streamed down my face.”
Of course, not everyone may feel comfortable constructing a structured letter to express gratitude — it’s best to find paths to honor your appreciation in ways that feel right for you.
As I was working on this post about gratitude, a friend (who previously wasn’t feeling well) updated his Facebook status to read: “I can breathe. This is awesome.” I smiled. He just feels grateful to breathe easily.
Suval, L. (2012). The Relationship Between Happiness and Gratitude. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 27, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/08/09/the-relationship-between-happiness-and-gratitude/