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The Psychological Impact of Having an Attitude of Gratitude

gratitude is  categorized as both a trait and a state/ Photo By Maxim Lupascu via 123RF

 

The Positive Psychology Program defines gratitude as “a positive emotion that is felt after being the beneficiary of some sort of gift.”

To add, it is considered a social emotion which one directs toward the giver of gift who may be a person or of a higher power. It is usually experienced when the gift they received was not given as part of reciprocating or when one feels they are not worthy of the gift.

Gratitude is also categorized as both a trait and a state. When seen in the context of being a trait, it is explained as an attitude that an individual practices every day in their life. It is also noted to be a character strength. In the context of being a state, it is something an individual feels when somebody else expresses their thankfulness.

 

Effects of Being Grateful

Being grateful has several benefits. The positive effects as mentioned in the article What is Gratitude and Its Role in Positive Psychology? are:

Improves overall sense of well-being

One study reveals that individuals who are grateful tend to be less neurotic and are more agreeable and open. In another study conducted by McCraty and his team of researchers, it was shown that participants with an “attitude of gratitude” had lower stress levels. In 2007,  researchers discovered that gratitude could lessen anxiety and depression levels.

Strengthens interpersonal relationships

An additional benefit a person can have from being grateful is that it facilitates the expanding of their social network. The widening of their social circle, in turn, helps them progress in their career and helps them deal with stress in life more effectively.  

Chang, Lin, and Chen’s study indicates that even though the person who received the expression of gratitude may not be able to return it directly, but it can benefit a third party. As a result, it spreads goodness into the social network. This reinforces the broaden and build theory of Frederickson which states that by having a bigger social network, one will be able to increase their social support.

More optimism

Research has also proven that practicing gratitude can lead one to be more optimistic. Dr. Emmons and Dr. McCullough, researchers who had been conducting several in-depth studies on gratitude practices, have discovered in their 2003 study that after ten weeks of focusing on things they were grateful for, participants were more optimistic about the different aspects of their life.

practicing gratitude can lead one to be more optimistic/ Photo By Michael Heim via 123RF

 

More happiness

There is evidence that by being more grateful, one can increase their happiness. This is according to the result of the study which was carried out by Toepher, Cichy, and Peters.

In an experiment they performed, they instructed subjects to write and send a letter to someone whom they felt thankful for. After being given that the task, it was shown that the levels of happiness and life satisfaction of the subjects rose. Even after several weeks have passed, they could still feel the effects.

Increased self-control

Gratitude may also help strengthen one’s sense of self-control, a study conducted by DeSteno and his colleagues find. The outcome of their research shows that when the participants chose to be grateful rather than feeling neutral or happy, their sense of self-control greatly improved.

Improved mental and physical health

Exercising gratitude can result in having a healthier mind which eventually leads to developing a healthier body. This was shown in a 2015 study which involved the participation of patients with heart problems. The patients were asked to complete gratitude journals and this lead to them having improved moods, sleeping better and lesser inflammation. Over the course of eight weeks, they also had lesser symptoms of heart failure.

Higher self-esteem

Higher levels of gratitude also meant higher levels of self-esteem, according to the studies conducted by Asian researchers. Chen’s research shows that athletes who had higher levels of gratitude had greater life satisfaction and gradually, this also developed into lasting higher self-esteem
 

How to Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude

For some, gratitude may be innate. However, for others, it may be more difficult to find situations or things to be thankful for. Here are ways people can learn to be more grateful as stated by Psychology Today and Very Well Mind:

Wake up thankfully

It is advised that as soon as one wakes up in the morning, they dwell on the five things that they are thankful for. This will help instantly improve their mood and leaving their bed with that state of mind will determine how well their day will go.

Remind the self of what to be thankful for related  to the stressor

If a person catches themselves complaining about a stressor or a negative situation, it suggested that they think about four or five things associated with the event or stressor that makes them feel grateful. For instance, if their job is causing them distress, they should also meditate on the things that make them happy about having that work.

Choose to see the bright side

Anyone can decide how they react to an experience. It would be more beneficial if they choose to focus on the positive side of the situation rather than what is missing. If they do this regularly, the brain will be trained to concentrate more on the positives.

Do not make wrong comparisons

Instead of being envious of people whom they perceive to have the ideal lifestyle, or have more of what they want, they should see them as sources of inspiration. One must be thankful there are people they can draw inspiration from. They could also choose to compare themselves to the disadvantaged to remind themselves that they are more fortunate.

Give more

When a person gives, it makes them remember that they are living in abundance. It reminds them that in some ways, they are luckier than others. Engaging in random acts of kindness and doing volunteer work makes them aware that they have much to share. This realization will cause them to become more grateful.  

Write in a gratitude journal

When an individual keeps a written record of all the things that make them thankful, it places their mind in a positive state and lets them see the background of their experiences, causing them to think of their life as more meaningful. It would be much better if the journaling is done intentionally because when they set aside time to mull over the things that they are thankful for, they feel more emotions as they record them. It is advised that they write in the gratitude journal at least two times a week and record at least five items for each entry.

 

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