For most of us giving comes a lot easier than receiving. Problem is, if you give and give and refuse to accept anything from others, be it a gift or a helping hand or even a compliment, you make life harder than it has to be. One of the great keys to stress management is your ability to receive what comes your way, in whatever form it arrives.
There’s a growing body of research to back this up, led by one of the most prominent researchers in this field, Robert Emmons, PhD, professor of psychology at UC Davis and author of Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier.
He’s found that those who view life as a gift experience a boatload of benefits, from a better mood to stronger relationships to better health and resilience. Gratitude, in a sense, is a muscle and as such requires exercise to stay fit and functional.
Check out some of the gratitude research:
- A daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison.
- Those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).
- Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions.
- Grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress. The disposition toward gratitude appears to enhance pleasant feeling states more than it diminishes unpleasant emotions. Grateful people do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life.
Start your gratitude practice today. Here’s how:
- Say thanks. Send a thank-you text message or email to someone who did something nice for you recently. Or write a longer letter, detailing how their act of generosity benefited you. Better yet, tell them in person.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Every morning (or evening), write down 3 to 5 things you’re grateful for. They can be simple things, or big things—the key is that they’re different every day. Think: What was surprisingly fun, exciting, or laugh-out-loud funny? What made you feel good or proud or connected to someone else?
- Use visual cues. Put notes or objects that elicit feelings or reminders of gratitude and put them in different places so you see them throughout the day to help set your gratitude habit.
- Remember the good times. Do a deep dive into some personal archives and reconnect with where you’ve been, what you’ve learned, and whom you’ve loved along the way. (Read more about how to make good feelings last.)