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The Power of Gratitude

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Gratitude is a powerful emotion that has many benefits for the person experiencing it. It can transform our thinking and our way of being and cause us to lead much more fulfilling and happy lives.

A lot of research has been conducted into the benefits of practicing gratitude. Emmons and McCullough (2003) state that ‘a person is likely to feel grateful if they perceive that they have a positive personal outcome that they have either not earned, or are deserving of, as a result of the actions of another person’. One can feel grateful for any number of things: an unexpected gift, for family, one’s good health or for things going right as the result of hard work and effort. If cultivated on a regular basis it can have a very positive effect on the way in which we view the world.

If gratitude becomes a behaviour that is exercised intentionally, it can lead to what Wood et al. (2010) refer to as ‘eudaimonic wellbeing’, which is a ‘sense that one’s life has meaning, and that a person is living their life to the fullest’ (Wood et al., 2010). Watkins, Woodward, Stone and Kolts (2003) suggest that individuals who exhibit gratitude will exhibit the following traits:

  • They would not feel deprived in life;
  • They would appreciate others’ contributions to their well-being;
  • They would tend to appreciate simple pleasures (in other words, pleasurable things that are freely available to the majority of people): if an individual appreciates simple pleasures, they are likely to experience grateful feelings more often owing to frequently being appreciative of commonly occurring experiences;
  •  Finally, grateful individuals acknowledge the important role of experiencing and expressing gratitude.

There is mounting evidence to suggest that people who are able to be grateful for the small things in life and who habitually exhibit a life-orientation towards gratitude will also reap the fruit of this in other areas of their lives.

It is posited that our relationships will improve as a result of being grateful. Those who exhibit gratitude are often quicker to forgive than those who do not, and ‘it seems to strengthen relationships and contribute to relational connection and satisfaction’ (Wood et al., 2010). Preliminary research also suggests that our overall health may improve over time as we practice gratitude, however, a lot more research still needs to be done in this area. There is some evidence to suggest that the feeling of gratitude may also improve our ability to sleep well at night, but this too is a fairly new area of research.

Wood et al. (2010) have also conducted research into post-traumatic growth (as opposed to post-traumatic stress). ‘Post traumatic growth refers to an interesting phenomenon whereby some people, in addition to the intense suffering they experience, may gain some benefit from overcoming trauma’ (Wood et al, 2010). Those who experience more gratitude report that they experience life in general more positively and that they feel more fulfilled on a daily basis. Many ascribe feelings of appreciation for family and close friends and intentionally appreciating each day more as being important in promoting these feelings.

Many of us have been through a lot this past year and we may be feeling quite weather-beaten. Taking a moment each day to remember one or two things for which we are grateful may help us to navigate the unknown more effectively and healthily.

Craig Cuyler

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