How Feelings of Gratitude Breed Happiness and Well-Being

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© Ned Frisk Photography/Corbis

Woman Covering Her Smile with Her Hands --- Image by © Ned Frisk Photography/Corbis

If you need another reason to give thanks at the dinner table on Thursday, how’s this: people who maintain an “attitude of gratitude” tend to be happier and healthier than those who don’t, according to a lengthy and instructive article this week in the Wall Street Journal.

The WSJ‘s Melinda Beck reports that adults who feel grateful have “more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not, according to studies conducted over the past decade. They’re also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy or alcoholics.”

Now a new study conducted by researchers at Hofstra University — the results of which are set to be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Happiness Studies — finds similar benefits of gratitude for adolescents as well. (More on How to Raise a Happy Child)

Dr. Jeffrey J. Froh, assistant professor of psychology and lead researcher of the new study, surveyed 1,035 students ages 14 to 19 and found that grateful students reported higher grades, more life satisfaction, better social integration and less envy and depression than their peers who were less thankful and more materialistic. Additionally, feelings of gratitude had a more powerful impact on the students’ lives overall than materialism. (More on Generosity Can Be Contagious)

What the bulk of the research suggests is that gratitude should be chronic in order to make a lasting difference in well-being. Dr. Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and a pioneer in gratitude research, told the WSJ that in order to reap all of its benefits, feeling gratitude must be ingrained into your personality, and you must frequently acknowledge and be thankful for the role other people play in your happiness: “The key is not to leave it on the Thanksgiving table,” he said.

The good news is that even a negative Nancy can learn to incorporate gratitude into her life. Dour outlooks can be changed. Beck reports:

For older children and adults, one simple way to cultivate gratitude is to literally count your blessings. Keep a journal and regularly record whatever you are grateful for that day. Be specific. Listing “my friends, my school, my dog” day after day means that “gratitude fatigue” has set in, Dr. Froh says. Writing “my dog licked my face when I was sad” keeps it fresher. The real benefit comes in changing how you experience the world. Look for things to be grateful for, and you’ll start seeing them.

Studies show that using negative, derogatory words — even as you talk to yourself — can darken your mood, as well. Fill your head with positive thoughts, express thanks and encouragement aloud and look for something to be grateful for, not criticize, in those around you, especially loved ones.

Whether or not you can keep up your attitude of gratitude over the long-term, at least it can help you get through this year’s Thanksgiving dinner.

Read the entire WSJ article here.