Friday, August 12, 2011

The Art and Science of Gratitude

I recently came across some interesting articles like this and this regarding the benefits of taking some time each day to write about things that are going well, aspects of the day to be happy about, people and events to be grateful for.

Robert Emmons and his colleagues at U.C. Davis have found that people who keep a daily gratitude journal report more optimism and satisfaction with their lives, sleep better, and are generally healthier for doing so. They've also found that, while reports of general happiness fluctuate with the events of daily life, establishing a daily practice of noticing and writing about gratitude-inspiring events can help change an individual's "set point" for happiness.

"The set point concept is supported by research that shows that people return to a characteristic level of happiness a short time after both unusually good and unusually bad events. But the research on gratitude suggests that people can move their set point upward to some degree, enough to have a measurable effect on both their outlook and their health."

Emmons asserts that gratitude is a choice that we make - not only in what we journal about, but where we choose to direct our attention, what we talk about with others, and who we choose to surround ourselves with.

"If we hang out with ungrateful people, we will ‘catch' one set of emotions; if we choose to associate with more grateful individuals, the influence will be in another direction. Find a grateful person and spend more time with him or her."

Given that our own attitude can infect those of others, it follows that it would be difficult to raise positive, happy, upbeat, resiliant children if we don't model these attitudes ourselves.

An article in Mental Health News suggests: "At the end of each day, talk to your children and help them reflect on their day and think about the things that made it a good day. By ending each day thinking about what happened that made them happy, you can help them learn to accentuate the positive events in their lives."

While I haven't yet begun a structured activity like this with my kids each night, they do see my own habit of ending the day by blogging about something I feel good about, and I hope that something about that practice or the effect it has on my attitude is rubbing off on them. Even if it's been a difficult day here at home, I can write about martial arts or a book I'm enjoying - there's always some good I can find if I think about it.

No one's life is without its share of challenges, but facing those challenges with an optimistic spirit and a focus on blessings rather than curses - and keeping company with people who do the same - can have a major impact, not only on our own lives, but of the lives entrusted to us.

Daily gratitude journaling is one powerful step in reshaping - not only attitude - but, indirectly, the culture of the whole family.

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