With gratitude to happiness

The answer lies within ourselves. If we can’t find peace and happiness there, it’s not going to come from the outside” – Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo

It has been scientifically proven that keeping an attitude of gratitude might be the easiest way to improve the quality of your life, well-being and happiness.

There are many definitions for “gratitude”; Oxford dictionary defines it as “the quality of being thankful”, Merriam-Webster dictionary offers the same definition put in different words: “the state of being grateful”. However in the field of positive psychology a more helpful definition comes from Harvard Medical School:

“Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognise that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals – whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.”

Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California (author of Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier and Gratitude Works!: A Twenty-One-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity) and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, both leading researchers on gratitude in psychology define gratitude as having a dual meaning:

“a worldly one and a transcendent one. In its worldly sense, gratitude is a feeling that occurs in interpersonal exchanges when one person acknowledges receiving a valuable benefit from another. Gratitude is a cognitive-affective state that is typically associated with the perception that one has received a personal benefit that was not intentionally sought after, deserved, or earned but rather because of the good intentions of another person.”

Moreover, Dr. Emmons notes that gratitude like any skill requires practice. The practice of gratitude can be divided in three stages – recognising what you are grateful for, acknowledging it and appreciating it.

Gratitude has been studied as a facet of positive psychology, and is strongly associated with increased happiness. Studies show that gratitude can be deliberately cultivated and it can increase the well-being and happiness of the person practicing it. Dr. Emmons and Dr. Robin Stern of the Yale University in the article “Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention” note that:

“Clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting positive effects in a person’s life. It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function, promote happiness and well-being, and spur acts of helpfulness, generosity, and cooperation. Additionally, gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders.”

According to Dr. Emmons and Dr. McCullough research all you need is five minutes a day to simply journal what you are grateful for; and these five minutes can increase long term happiness by over 10%. You might say that there simply are not enough hours per day to do everything that you have on your “to do list”, never mind keeping a gratitude journal on top of that. However, five minutes per day are only around 30 hours per year, which is not even a full working week. Five minutes per day in exchange of 7 scientifically proven benefits, gratitude:

  1. Opens the door to more relationships;
  2. Improves physical health;
  3. Improves psychological health;
  4. Enhances empathy and reduces aggression;
  5. Improves sleep;
  6. Improves self-esteem;
  7. Increases mental strength;

The list of various benefits of practising gratitude could go on and on. If you are still not convinced, here is a helpful infographic from Happier Human:

Gratitude and Happiness

Luckily everyone has the ability to practice gratitude without any special tools. Here are some ideas on how to cultivate gratitude and apply it to your everyday life:

  • Keep a gratitude journal;
  • Say thank you to someone mentally;
  • Write a thank you note or a letter;
  • Before sleep take a moment to think of positive things that happened during the day;
  • Meditate;

However, sometimes tools can be helpful when starting a new habit, Unstuck offers a list of 9 ways to cultivate gratitude and a list of websites that specialises in appreciation and Positive Psychology Program gives you printable gratitude journal templates and gratitude journal apps.

Need more inspiration? Filmmaker Louie Schwarzberg (his TEDx talk on gratitude was a viral sensation) in a series of 15 film shorts explores the many sides of gratitude to help you on your way to an attitude of gratitude.