Pathways to Wellness

conversation • connection • commitment

Being grateful

A psychologist by the name of Robert Emmons has studied gratitude – the act of appreciating the good in our lives, and expressing gratefulness. Expressing gratitude has a positive effect on emotional, physical and social well-being.

People who express gratitude experience more positive emotions such as happiness, feeling alive, and joy; and fewer negative emotions like envy, anger and frustration. They also have fewer everyday aches and pains, more restful sleep, and more energy. To top it off, they are less lonely and isolated, and more helpful, generous and connected with others.

Gratitude is a relationship-building skill. Why?

  • When we are grateful, we are recognizing the positive impact that a person has had on our life, and the time and care they have given to support us. Being grateful reminds us of the importance of this relationship, and that we should not take it for granted.
  • Knowing that someone has taken steps to make our life better means we must be worth it – this builds our self-worth.
  • Expressing our gratitude to that person is like a compliment – it makes them feel valued.

In this way, gratitude works for everyone, and multiplies.

Being grateful comes easier to some people than others; some people are born optimists, others pessimists. About 50% of happiness is genetic. Happier, more optimistic people find it easier to appreciate what they have rather than focussing on what they don’t have. There are three ways of getting the benefits of gratitude which work for everyone, whether you are an optimist or a pessimist.

  • Count your blessings – keep a gratitude journal. Set aside a time every week to reflect on times or moments over the last week for which you are grateful – holding your newborn; seeing a beautiful sunset or the Northern lights; appreciating your neighbour for shovelling your walk. By doing this, you can improve your emotional, physical and social well-being.
  • It’s never too late to say thank you – every month write a gratitude letter to someone who has had a positive impact on your life, expressing your gratitude. Mail it, or even better, deliver it in person. The important point is to write about what you are grateful for – even if you don’t deliver the letter, even if the person is no longer alive, you will get the benefits of expressing gratitude if you write it down.
  • Find an opportunity to express your gratitude to someone in your life every day. Try to be personal in your expression. It’s good to say “you’re a great guy” but it’s even better to say “I really appreciate your thoughtfulness” or “it made my day when you offered to make dinner tonight.”

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