What seems like a hundred years ago, I read about keeping a gratitude journal. The extremely intricate explanation was, “Write down 5 things that you’re grateful for every day.” Ok, maybe not so detailed; it actually seemed pretty self-explanatory.
So I started writing down the things I was grateful for that happened each day. In the beginning I wrote the big stuff: family, good health, job, a home, husband, child, etc. But after a short time I ran out of those things. And strangely enough, that’s when the magic happened. I spent a couple of nights struggling to come up with my list and became frustrated. How could I be so blessed (the phrase ‘an embarrassment of riches’ comes to mind) and yet struggle to find things to be thankful for? That’s when I started finding myself looking for things throughout the day that I could include in my journal that night. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the lens I viewed the world through was changing from bumbling through the day to actively looking for things to be grateful for. It was a game changer.
Instead of just saying a cursory thank you for shelter and food and such, I said thank you for the beautiful flowers that were blooming on the side of the highway, for the way my daughter throws her head back when she laughs, for the way everyone in my family says I Love You before hanging up the phone. I had been taking these things for granted, but now I sat up and noticed.
As I filled up journal after journal it became a badge of honor to not only have been given so many blessings but to have spotted them and not take them for granted. I started thinking about what a legacy to leave my daughter. An indication of how blessed we are.
Flash forward 15 years, and I came across a book called Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier by Robert Emmons, a researcher on gratitude. He and a colleague, Mike McCullough, conducted a study called Blessings and Burdens. The long and short of it is they asked college students to write down 5 things per week that they were grateful for. At the end of the study they found the kids in the gratitude condition increased their happiness scores in how they viewed their lives and how optimistic they were in the way they viewed their upcoming week. That was exactly what the researchers had expected.
What was surprising was the subjects also reported falling asleep quicker, sleeping longer, and waking more refreshed. For students who had neuromuscular diseases, the pain associated with their conditions decreased, and they were also logging an extra hour-and-a-half per week of exercise. Emmons and McCullough also found that grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness and optimism. And who couldn’t use a little more of that?
Scientific proof that gratitude is good for you!