Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Counting the Real Blessings of Gratitude

Katy, Clare's little sister guest posting again. I told Clare I wanted to guest post this week because I'm a research assistant in a psychology lab that studies gratitude and November seemed like the most appropriate time for me to share some interesting tidbits I've learned about gratitude.

I've seen quite a bit of well intentioned pseudo facts about gratitude floating around as we approach Thanksgiving. I thought I'd share some real empirical facts about gratitude that go deeper than the fact that you have 28 easy Facebook statuses for November.

It is pretty easy to mock the lame people who post/talk/tweet about the world's most obvious things to be grateful for. They are nearly as irritating as the kid in Sunday school who answers all the questions with "Jesus", Jesus is good, but it can be nice to see a little depth. However, research indicates that people who are grateful for the big things like their health and family can more easily retrieve positive events from their memory than ungrateful people which increases the grateful people's overall sense of well-being.

These lame people seem to post the most trite and banal statuses imaginable. No one on Facebook, except perhaps your mom cares to see you sing the praises of your iPhone or Netflix. Newsflash, everyone else has those too. But Simple Sally, who is writing sonnets about the McRib, is actually doing something great for her positive affectivity. There is a plethora of new research that shows that being grateful for simple pleasures is one of the core components of happiness. People who can appreciate Candy Crush cope better when their dreams are crushed, because they are in the habit of looking for good in everything and it has become a cognitive reflex.

I'd probably unfriend someone who cluttered up my wall with such a dramatic status (not really, but you get my point). However there are two good things to be learned from this status. First, grateful people really are grateful for all the things. By consistently showing gratitude they have trained their brain to encode events in a positive way and to use gratitude to cope with the bad things in their life.
Secondly, this may come as a surprise, but you can fake it till you make it with gratitude. In studies where the researchers forced students to write down a certain number of blessings every day in order to receive extra credit even the students who said they did the activities purely for credit with no personal interest they still got a bump in happiness and well being that lasted for weeks and even grew in intensity.

Last, here are a few quick tips to train your brain to be grateful.

  1.  List your blessings. Every day just write/post/tweet/graffiti  a new one, even something simple, just try and not get stuck in a rut of only writing down "my family" etc.
  2. Write thank you notes. Showing gratitude towards others prevents feelings of indebtedness and inhibits narcissism.
  3. Be grateful for yourself. Think of your strengths and why others might be grateful to you, it's a proven mood booster 

 If gratitude research interests you at all I can suggest some great articles and books that are readily available on the internet (I'd love to bore you with direct citations and links, but most are stuck behind academic paywalls).

Have a great Thanksgiving!

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