As the leaves fall from the tree outside my office and the world changes color from shades of green to shades of gold, orange and brown, my thoughts turn toward thanksgiving and gratitude (as well as toward the fast approaching Season of Giving).
“Gratitude is derived from the Latin gratia, meaning grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. All derivations from the Latin root ‘have to do with kindness, generosity, gifts, the beauty of giving and receiving, or getting something for nothing’ (Pruyser, 1976, p.69). As a psychological state gratitude is a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness and appreciation for life.” (Emmons and Shelton)
With the emergence of the positive psychology movement, gratitude has relatively recently come to the forefront as a psychological principle. According to research in the positive psychology realm, gratitude can help people cope with negative life-events, help people feel generally more positive and optimistic, and increases individual sense of health and wellbeing.
The following Tedtalk, by Shawn Achor, author of “The Happiness Advantage”, is an entertaining summary of happiness research at Harvard University. He lists the following five areas that can create lasting individual positive change:
- List 3 specific things you are grateful for each day for 21 days. (Emmons and McCullough, 2003). Dr. Achor asserts that this practice rewires your brain to work more successfully and optimistically.
- Journal about one positive experience a day. This allows your brain to re-live the experience. (Stratcher and Pennebaker, 2006).
- Exercise. This teaches your brain your behavior matters. (Babyak, et al. 2000).
- Meditation. This allows your brain to focus on the task at hand. (Dweck, 2007).
- Random Acts of Kindness/Conscious acts of Kindness (Lyubominsky, 2005).
Shawn Achor states, based on research, if we do the above noted 5 activities we can alter our own levels of happiness.
The first item on Dr. Achor’s list has to do with gratitude. It includes scanning the past 24 hours each day and noting the top three specific things that occurred that day that you are most grateful for and why. You can write them down on anything and in any format. It is most helpful if they are different each day, specific to that day, and include why you are grateful for that particular item or event. It might also be helpful to find a specific time each day that works for you to record the things you are grateful for.
A few examples might be, I am grateful for…
…the fresh apple cider my brother-in-law brought me from his family’s apple farm. It was so cool and crisp and so kind of him to think of me.
…my daughter’s wrist not actually being fractured. I am glad she will heal and not have lasting problems.
…the beautiful sunset I enjoyed with my husband as we sat on our front porch and talked. It was so bright and colorful and I liked sharing the experience with someone I care about.
Shawn Achor concludes that as we train our brain to scan the environment for the good, it strengthens the neuro-pathways that support us looking and seeing the good in our lives. The more we practice it, the easier it becomes to find things in our lives that are positive and meaningful and that we can appreciate.
We are thankful for each other at the Child, Adolescent and Adult Treatment Specialists. We are grateful for the support we feel and give to each other and for the beauty, strength and humanity of each of our individual clients. We wish you the best of this season.
We hope anyone that comes across this blog will join us in this 21day gratitude challenge that helps us focus on the good and promotes a greater sense of happiness and wellbeing.
Achor, S. (2010) The Happiness Advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that find success and performance at work.
Emmons R. A. & Crumplor, G.A. (2000)
Gratitude as human strength; Appraising the evidence. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 19, 56-69.
Emmons R. A. & McCullough, M. E. (2003).
Counting blessings versus burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-being in Daily Life. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 84, 377-389.
Emmons R. A. & Shelton, C. M. (2002).
Gratitude & Science of Positive Psychology. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.) Handbook of Positive Psychology (pp. 459-471), New York: Oxford University Press.
Pruyser P.W. (1976).
The minister as diagnostician; Personal problems in pastoral perspective
Philadelphia, Westminster, 1976.