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The Practice of Gratitude

 

In recent years, gratitude has received much attention from researchers, and it has been well established that gratitude has benefits for our health and our relationships.[1] Here are some interesting findings:
 
Psychological well-being
Gratitude has been identified as a key trait for improving psychological well-being. [2, 3] Keeping a gratitude diary and reflecting on grateful feelings can reduce depression and stress, and increase happiness over time.[4] Gratitude is inversely related to depressive symptoms and major depressive disorder.[5] In fact, one’s disposition to feel gratitude is a unique predictor of lower depression.[6] Gratitude is also inversely related to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and is believed to decrease the negative effects of posttraumatic stress on mood and cognition.[7]
 
Gratitude can also enhance quality of life for those who suffer from chronic illness.[8] Gratitude has been valuable for people with fibromyalgia and neuromuscular diseases, especially in its positive effect on emotions.[9]
 
Emotional intelligence
Gratitude is positively associated with emotional intelligence, which relates to our levels of self-awareness, empathy, motivation, and self-regulation.[10] Emotional intelligence is important in personal and professional relationships. Even though emotional intelligence tends to be steady throughout our lifetimes and to increase with age, it can be improved deliberately with the practice of gratitude interventions.
 
Patience
There is a strong relationship between gratitude levels and increased patience, which is especially important for self-control.[11]
 
Social interactions
Gratitude plays an important role in building and maintaining interpersonal relationships. There is a well-established association between gratitude and more positive social interactions.[12, 13] Individuals who have more grateful dispositions tend to be more generous and trusting on average.[14]
 
Expressions of gratitude play a special role in friendships. Levels of gratitude seem to be higher toward friends than toward siblings, and we generally place a higher expectation on friends than we do on siblings to express gratitude.[15] One’s view of a relationship is stronger when gratitude is expressed outwardly as opposed to simply thinking grateful thoughts about a friend, or even having a positive interaction with a friend.[16]
 
The body responds to gratitude
The effects of gratitude have been observed in the body. In one study, the average heart rate was significantly lower when experiencing gratitude versus resentment.[17]
 
Brain scans indicate that gratitude affects the regions of the brain involved in the regulation of emotion and motivation.[18] In one study, subjects wrote letters expressing gratitude. After three months, their brain activity was measured while experiencing gratitude, and showed significantly greater effects in the prefrontal cortex, the region associated with morals and value judgments.[19]
 
Differences between men and women
Women may be more likely than men to experience gratitude, both as a personality trait and upon receiving a gift. In general, men seem to derive fewer benefits from gratitude, and tend to feel burdened and obligated more than women.[20] However, another study showed that boys appear to derive greater benefits from gratitude in the forms of feeling social support and exhibiting positive social behavior.[21]
 
Some tips for a gratitude practice
We can cultivate gratitude. Research indicates that benefit-triggered gratitude (gratitude felt for a particular person or situation in response to a kindness received) has a stronger effect than a general appreciation for the positive or valued aspects of life.[22] With this in mind, think of something specific for which you are grateful, but not something that makes you feel obligated, guilty, or dependent.
 
Gratitude may be expressed by a person’s own internal feelings of appreciation, or by an outward expression to someone else. Write a letter (whether or not you actually send it), keep a gratitude journal, or think deliberately of your gratitude for a specific person or situation. Try making a habit of expressing gratitude every day.
 
What you might experience
Subjects participating in gratitude interventions reported more grateful moods than was typical for them, more people to whom they were grateful, more frequent daily episodes of gratitude, and more intense gratitude per episode.[23]
 
A conscious focus on the things for which you are grateful can bring real emotional and interpersonal benefits.
 
 
Sources: 

1.Fox, G. R., Kaplan, J., Damasio, H., & Damasio, A. (2015). Neural correlates of gratitude. Frontiers in Psychology,6.

2.Sirois, F. M., & Wood, A. M. (2017). Gratitude uniquely predicts lower depression in chronic illness populations: A longitudinal study of inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis. Health Psychology, 36(2), 122-132.

3.Davis, D. E., Choe, E., Meyers, J., Wade, N., Varjas, K., Gifford, A., . . . Worthington, E. L. (2016). Thankful for the little things: A meta-analysis of gratitude interventions. Journal of Counseling Psychology,63(1), 20-31.

4.Leary, K. O., & Dockray, S. (2015). The Effects of Two Novel Gratitude and Mindfulness Interventions on Well-Being.The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine,21(4), 243-245.

5.Dusen, J. P., Tiamiyu, M. F., Kashdan, T. B., & Elhai, J. D. (2015). Gratitude, depression and PTSD: Assessment of structural relationships. Psychiatry Research,230(3), 867-870.

6.Sirois, F. M., & Wood, A. M. (2017). Gratitude uniquely predicts lower depression in chronic illness populations: A longitudinal study of inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis. Health Psychology,36(2), 122-132.

7.Dusen, J. P., Tiamiyu, M. F., Kashdan, T. B., & Elhai, J. D. (2015). Gratitude, depression and PTSD: Assessment of structural relationships. Psychiatry Research,230(3), 867-870.

8.Toussaint, L., Sirois, F., Hirsch, J., Weber, A., Vajda, C., Schelling, J., . . . Offenbacher, M. (2017). Gratitude mediates quality of life differences between fibromyalgia patients and healthy controls. Quality of Life Research,26(9), 2449-2457.

9.Ibid.

10.Ibid.

11.Dickens, L., DeSteno, D. (2016). The grateful are patient: Heightened daily gratitude is associated with attenuated temporal discounting. Emotion. 16(4): 421-5.

12.Yost-Dubrow, R., & Dunham, Y. (2017). Evidence for a relationship between trait gratitude and prosocial behaviour. Cognition and Emotion,1-7.

13.Does Gratitude Enhance Prosociality?: A Meta-Analytic Review. (2017). Psychological Bulletin.

14.Yost-Dubrow, R., & Dunham, Y. (2017). Evidence for a relationship between trait gratitude and prosocial behaviour. Cognition and Emotion,1-7.

15.Rotkirch, A., Lyons, M., David-Barrett, T., & Jokela, M. (2014). Gratitude for Help among Adult Friends and Siblings. Evolutionary Psychology,12(4), 147470491401200.

16.Lambert, N. M., Clark, M. S., Durtschi, J., Fincham, F. D., & Graham, S. M. (2010). Benefits of Expressing Gratitude. Psychological Science,21(4), 574-580.

17.Kyeong, S., Kim, J., Kim, D. J., Kim, H. E., & Kim, J. (2017). Effects of gratitude meditation on neural network functional connectivity and brain-heart coupling. Scientific Reports,7(1).

18.Ibid.

19.Kini, P., Wong, J., Mcinnis, S., Gabana, N., & Brown, J. W. (2016). The effects of gratitude expression on neural activity. NeuroImage,128, 1-10.

20.Kini, P., Wong, J., Mcinnis, S., Gabana, N., & Brown, J. W. (2016). Gender differences in gratitude. NeuroImage,128, 1-10.

21.Froh, J. J., Yurkewicz, C., & Kashdan, T. B. (2009). Gratitude and subjective well-being in early adolescence: Examining gender differences. Journal of Adolescence,32(3), 633-650.

22.MA, L.K., Tunney, R.J., Ferguson, E. (2017). Does Gratitude Enhance Prosociality?: A Meta-Analytic Review. Psychological Bulletin.

23.Mccullough, M. E., Tsang, J., & Emmons, R. A. (2004). Gratitude in Intermediate Affective Terrain: Links of Grateful Moods to Individual Differences and Daily Emotional Experience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,86(2), 295-309.