What is gratitude and why does it lead people to live happier and healthier lives? People who are grateful are likely to be joyful. Grateful people are less likely to experience depression and anxiety. Gratitude is associated with humility. And people who are grateful are known to have lasting and meaningful relationships with others. So, what is it about being grateful that leads to all of these benefits, and how we can practice gratitude on a daily basis are the focus of these weeks blog post!
Our moral memory
The sociologist Georg Simmel called gratitude “the moral memory of mankind.” This is likely how gratitude evolved: encouraging us to appreciate gifts from others, and also to pay them forward. Gratitude has two parts according to Robert Emmons, a researcher on the subject. The first component is “an affirmation of goodness.” Put another way, we have to acknowledge that there are good things in the world around us.
The second part of Emmons definition is that the sources of this goodness our outside of ourselves and our immediate control. There are good things in the world, and sometimes they happen because of things outside of our control. Good things happen to us because of other people, because of where we live, when we were born, and the families we were born into. Sometimes, through no effort of our own, good things happen. Part of living a grateful life is acknowledging that fact.
Gratitude is a relationship building emotion. When we are grateful, we can easily recognize how supported we are by other people, and our bonds are strengthened with them. With so many benefits, is this a skill we can learn? Well, one exercise that has been shown to increase positive feelings and decrease depression and anxiety in our lives is to “count our blessings.” In this exercise, which only needs to be done once per week to achieve benefit, we spend 5-minutes thinking about three things we are grateful for and we write those down. “I am grateful for________, because_________.” When we write down three things we are grateful for, once per week, we reap the benefits of living a grateful life.
The second method to practicing gratitude is one of our favorites as it is an act of kindness. Tell someone you are close to that you are grateful for them. You achieve the benefits associated with acknowledging your gratitude, and your loved one receives the benefit of a spontaneous act of kindness!