“There must be more to life than having everything!” (Maurice Sendak)
There is indeed. The happiest people in the world are those who have learned to be grateful for what they have. In fact, “gratitude plays a critical role in human happiness. It is literally one of the few things that can measurably change people’s lives.” (1)
According to Dr. Robert Emmons, “gratitude is not simply a form of positive thinking or a technique of ‘happy-ology,’ but rather a deep and abiding recognition and acknowledgment that goodness exists under even the worst that life offers.” (2)
Gratitude doesn’t make the bad things go away, but it can help us notice the abundance of goodness in the world. As well known author Sarah Ban Breathnach says, “Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend.” (3)
Emmons & McCullough (2003) studied what happens when people tend their gratitude garden. One group of participants kept a daily record of five things they were grateful for. A second group listed things that irritated them that day, and the third group simply listed five events that happened. All the participants then kept track of how they felt physically and emotionally. The study found that people who counted their blessings instead of their burdens slept better, exercised more, reported fewer physical complaints, felt more optimistic, and felt more connected to others. (4)
Interestingly, those who focused on their blessings were also more likely to have offered emotional support to others or helped someone with a problem. Indeed, “gratitude appears to build friendships and other social bonds. Gratitude, thus, is a form of love.” (5)
It is no surprise then, that gratitude strengthens family relationships. Gordon et al. (2012) found that when partners felt appreciated, they felt closer to their partners. Feeling appreciated gave them a sense of security that enabled them to turn around and focus on their own appreciative feelings. They realized their partner was valuable, and they returned the favor by showing appreciation to them. (6)
Perhaps this Thanksgiving you can try tending your own gratitude garden. Consider writing down five things you are grateful for every day, and looking for ways to show appreciation to your loved ones. Then watch what grows.
You may discover that you do “have everything” after all.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!
(1) Emmons, R. (2007) “Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier” New York, Houghton Mifflin. 2-5
(2) Ibid., p. 9, emphasis added.
(3) Ban Breathnach, S. in John Cook, comp., The Book of Positive Quotations, 2nd ed. (2007), 342.
(4) Emmons, R. A., McCullough, M. E., (2003) Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 84, No.2, 377-389
(5) Ibid., p. 338
(6) Gordon, A., Impett, E., Oveis, C., Keltner, D., (2012) To Have and to Hold: Gratitude Promotes Relationship Maintenance in Intimate Bonds, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2012, Vol. 103, No. 2, 257–274