The Blessing of Feeling Blessed

November 26, 2019

With Thanksgiving almost here we will soon be going around the table, taking time to acknowledge what we’re grateful for. It’s a nice tradition, but does it do us any good? In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.

There are significant physical benefits.

  • Stronger immune systems
  • Less bothered by aches and pains
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Exercise more and take better care of health
  • Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking

Psychological benefits abound for grateful people. 

  • Higher levels of positive emotions
  • More alert, alive, and awake
  • More joy and pleasure
  • More optimism and happiness

Socially, life improves with gratitude.

  • More helpful, generous, and compassionate
  • More forgiving
  • More outgoing
  • Feel less lonely and isolated, and relationships are strengthened

Why does gratitude have these transforming effects on people’s lives? I think there are several important reasons, but I want to highlight four in particular.

1. Gratitude celebrates the present. It magnifies positive emotions. Positive emotions die quickly because we adapt to a new normal when life is positive and the newness wears off. But gratitude focuses on the value of something, not just the excitement and newness. We don’t take it for granted.

2. Gratitude fends off negative emotions. Things like envy, resentment, and regret can destroy our happiness. A 2008 study by psychologist Alex Wood in the Journal of Research in Personality, shows that gratitude can reduce the frequency and duration of episodes of depression. It makes perfect sense. You can’t hold a negative emotion and a positive one at the same time. You cannot feel envious and grateful at the same time.

3. Gratitude reduces stress. Much research shows grateful people recover more quickly from trauma and illness. Gratitude provides a positive perspective for interpreting the negatives of life. It negates much post-traumatic stress and long-term struggle.

4. Gratitude leads to a higher sense of self-worth. Gratitude makes you aware of the people in your life who care about and value you. You see yourself with a network of people who have contributed powerfully to your life, and because they see value in you, your self-esteem improves.

Gratitude isn’t always the easy choice, however.

  • Our tendency as humans is to take personal credit when something good happens to us, but to blame others or circumstances when things go badly.
  • By the time we are adults, we have deeply ingrained tendencies toward gratitude or ingratitude.
  • In order to be grateful, you have to own that you don’t control everything, and sometimes we just need to accept the way things are and be grateful.
  • Sometimes we want to believe in a “just world” where everyone just gets what they deserve. Good people get the good, bad people get the bad. But when we develop gratitude, we are able to see that we have far more than we deserve. We are not entitled. 

How can you become more grateful? Robert Emmons, a man who has studied and practiced gratitude for more than a decade, suggests 10 ways:

1. Keep a gratitude journal. Establish a daily practice in which you remind yourself of the gifts, grace, benefits, and good things you enjoy.

2. Remember the bad. To be grateful in your current state, it is helpful to remember the hard times that you once experienced. When you remember how difficult life used to be and how far you have come, you set up contrast in your mind, and this contrast is fertile ground for gratefulness.

3. Ask yourself three questions. “What have I received from __?”, “What have I given to __?”, and “What troubles and difficulty have I caused?”

4. Learn prayers of gratitude. Prayers of gratitude are considered to be the most powerful form of prayer, because through these prayers people recognize the ultimate source of all they are and all they will ever be.

5. Come to your senses. Through our senses—the ability to touch, see, smell, taste, and hear—we gain an appreciation of what it means to be human and what an incredible miracle it is to be alive.

6. Use visual reminders. Because the two primary obstacles to gratefulness are forgetfulness and a lack of mindful awareness, visual reminders can serve as cues to trigger thoughts of gratitude. Other people are often the best visual reminders.

7. Vow to practice gratitude. Research shows that making an oath to do something increases the likelihood that you will. It could be as simple as “I vow to count my blessings each day.” Post it somewhere where you will be reminded of it every day.

8. Watch your language. Grateful people use the language of gifts, givers, blessings, blessed, fortune, fortunate, and abundance. Focus on the inherently good things that others have done on your behalf.

9. Go through the motions. Going through grateful motions should trigger the emotion of gratitude more often. Grateful motions include smiling, saying thank you, and writing letters of gratitude.

10. Think outside the box. If you want to make the most out of opportunities to flex your gratitude muscles, you must creatively look for new situations and circumstances in which to feel grateful.

Let’s follow Mr. Emmons’ example and amp up the gratitude. There’s great blessing in feeling blessed.