Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D.

If you want to change the world, have a lasting impact on your community, create a meaningful and psychological healthy workplace, develop a safe community, loving family or meaningful partnership—it all starts with you.

Several recent research studies have focused on the power of gratitude giving as a necessary condition for developing self esteem, enhancing social ties, facilitating psychological health and physical well-being.

The Evidence for the Gratitude Affect

Psychologist Martin Seligman and colleagues have focused on a variety of psychological interventions that increase individual happiness (Seligman, M., P, Steen, T., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410-421). In a 6-group, random-assignment, placebo-controlled Internet study, he tested 5 happiness interventions and one control exercise. They found that 3 of the interventions significantly increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms–for as long as 6 months.

Two of the exercises (using signature strengths in a new way and writing about three good things that went well each day) significantly increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms for six months. Another exercise, the “gratitude visit” was associated with significant and positive mood changes for 30 days. The other tested exercises and the placebo control created positive but only transient effects on happiness and depressive symptoms.

Another psychologist, Robert Emmons and his colleagues have also extensively studied the impact of gratitude (Emmons, R.A., & McCullough, M.E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: Experimental studies of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377-38). In one study adults with neuromuscular disorders were asked to keep a gratitude journal every day for two weeks. They were asked to focus on several things each day that they were thankful about and to write about what things in their life they saw as positive and meaningful.

Participants in the “gratitude condition” showed significantly more optimism and life satisfaction than a control group. Interestingly, the researchers reported that spouses of study participants (i.e., people in the gratitude condition) seemed significantly happier than those in the control group. Not only did focusing on gratitude change attitudes, it also apparently changed behavior of those in the study.

Gratitude Exercises

Giving gratitude is something we can develop and make an automatic part of our day. Here are several evidenced-based gratitude exercises that have been proven by Seligman, Emmons and other researchers to enhance psychological well-being, social ties and life satisfaction.

1. Gratitude Journal: For two weeks, write down each day several things you are truly grateful for and explain why in your own person journal.

2. Gratitude Gift: Identify someone in your life you truly value that has contributed to your life success in some way. This person can be a family member, friend, teacher, or another person who has touched you in a positive and signifcant way and whom you have not probably acknowledged in a heart felt manner. Write a letter to this person describing what they have done to influence your life and why–mail it or deliver it in person.

3. Gratitude Reflection: Each night, reflect on one thing that made your day special and then physically smile to elicit the physiology of relaxation (moods follow your body).

4. Gratitude Acknowledgement: Call or email someone you love, work with or know in the community and sincerely share a thank you with them about their behavior, service or recent work.

Perhaps we can all make a step towards making our lives and those around us a bit better by first giving gratitude for what we have….as Victor Frankl once said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves“…..Be well….