“Thanks to life that has given me so much…….” – Excerpt from the song “Thanks to Life” Mercedes Sosa.
With this song, Mercedes Sosa, singer / songwriter of Latin American Folklore, expresses a deep gratitude about life. This song, with its positive, full of gratitude message inspired a whole generation of young activists in the 70’s’ in Latin America.
This week, I introduce research that supports the notion that practicing gratitude on regular basis boost happiness and wellbeing. I also describe simple, yet effective exercises to cultivate gratitude in your daily life.
Similarly, Davis, Dickerhoof, R., Lyubomirsky, S. & Sheldon, K. M, of researchers of the University of California, Davis found that people who express gratitude on regular basis are happier, more satisfied and have a more positive attitude towards life.
What is gratitude?
Gratitude is a positive emotion or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive. (Wikipedia 2008).
According to experts in the new field of Positive Psychology, practicing gratitude has the power of increasing happiness, improve our wellbeing and to strengthening our relationship with others. They also have found that gratitude is a habit that can be developed and strengthened with practice of simple, yet effective exercises. A study conducted by Emmons and McCullough (2003) found that sitting down weekly to write about five things we are grateful for increased happiness levels by 25%.
Exercises to cultivate gratitude
There are at least tree simple exercises that have proven to be effective in cultivating gratitude: writing a gratitude journal, writing a letter thanks letter, and thanking at all times.
1. Three Blessings/gratitude Journal Exercise
Every night, before going to bed, take at least 10 minutes to write about three things for which you are grateful about. These three things could be as general as: being alive, to being able to see and enjoy the beauties of life, to enjoy a sunrise / sunset, being healthy, being loved and appreciated by people that you love and respect, etc. Or they can also be as specific as: receiving good news form a loved one, receiving praise for a job well done, spending time with your love ones- your wife, husbands, sons, or friends- learning something new, the expression of love and affection of a loved one, the smile of children, and so on. Try to write your gratitude journal every day. Maybe at first, you may feel a little bit uncomfortable writing about this, but will eventually become easier and natural for you. Source: Authentic happiness by Martin, 2002 & Robert Emmons, Thanks! 2007.
2. Gratitude Letter/ Visit
Think of a person who has contributed to your life in a very special way and to whom you have not formally thanked. Write a letter to that person in which you express how thankful you are for the “gifts” that you received from him/her. If possible visit this person and read the letter personally. Take time to enjoy the feelings and emotions that this experience it provokes in you. Source: Martin Seligman, Authentic Happiness 2002
Develop the habit of thanking people at all times. Pay attention to the kindness of others towards you and make sure that you express you gratitude to them. This exercise will help you develop and strengthen you in the habit of gratitude. Source: Michael Frisch, Quality of Life Therapy 2005.
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Is Happiness Having What You Want, Wanting What You Have, Or Both? Association for Psychological Science (2008, April 28).
How and why do positive activities work to boost well-being? An experimental longitudinal investigation of regularly practicing optimism and gratitude. Manuscript under review, Dicker hoof, R., Lyubomirsky, S., & Sheldon, K. M. (2007
Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize You’re Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, Martin E P Seligman, Ph.D., Simon and Schuster, 2002
Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, Robert A. Emmons, Houghton Mifflin Books, 2007