Gratitude is a social concept. It involves others – usually recognition of them giving us something. The act of gratitude may be simple and involve basic niceties, but effects are far-reaching.
What is gratitude?
There are various definitions of gratitude that each give a slightly different perspective on the concept.
Gratitude is an affirmation of goodness, and
recognition that the sources of goodness come from the gifts other people give us
~ Robert Emmons
Gratitude is what people feel when they have benefited from someone’s intentional, voluntary effort towards them
~ Michael McCullough
Benefits of gratitude
Researchers studied more than 1,000 people (aged 8-80 years) and found that those who practise gratitude consistently report a host of benefits.
• Stronger immune systems
• Less bothered by aches and pains
• Lower blood pressure
• Exercise more and take better care of their health
• Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
• Higher levels of positive emotions
• More alert, alive, and awake
• More joy and pleasure
• More optimism and happiness
• More helpful, generous, and compassionate
• More forgiving
• More outgoing
• Feel less lonely and isolated
How gratitude works
Gratitude allows celebration of the present
Positive emotions are temporary – they wear off quickly. Human emotional systems like novelty and change. When you adapt to positive life circumstances the impact doesn’t last long, and the excitement wanes. However, gratitude makes us appreciate the value of something. You extract more benefits from it and are less likely to take it for granted.
Gratitude works because it is more participative. People celebrate goodness. If you like, they engage with it. Positive emotions tend to be magnified. A material possession has a short short life span of positive emotion whereas something of value that we engage in, has a longer ‘affective’ impact.
Gratitude blocks toxic emotions
Toxic emotions are things like envy, resentment, regret, depression. They destroy happiness. These emotions are incompatible with gratitude eg you cannot experience envy and gratefulness at the same time. This is backed by the research which shows that people with high levels of gratitude have low levels of resentment and envy.
Grateful people are more stress resilient
Research shows that people with a grateful disposition recover more quickly from in life situations like trauma, adversity and suffering. People with this perspective tend to be able to interpret negative life events in a way that helps them guard against anxiety and stress responses.
Gratitude strengthens social ties and self-worth
When people are grateful, they sense when others are looking out for them or when someone has provided for their well-being. They recognise and acknowledge the importance of relationships in contributing to their success – be it professional or personal.Once you start to recognise the contributions that other people have made to your life—once you realise that other people have seen the value in you—you can transform the way you see yourself.
~ Emmons, 2010.
A place for authentic and generous gratitude
Gratitude needs to come from a good place – to be an authentic appreciation of something that comes our way. Being grateful is really a generous attitude to to the contribution others make to us. It is not about manipulation or self-serving intents.
Being grateful does not mean that we cannot take responsibility for our own endeavours. This is still important. A grateful perspective implies an incumbent reciprocity is evident. When we achieve something we acknowledge both our own efforts and the contribution of others.
The real act of generosity comes in “paying it forward” and contributing to others as has been done to you, to extend and spread the goodness.
Next week – Find out how to cultivate gratitude.