Scientific Research Demonstrates How Gratitude Cultivates Happiness
Happy Thanksgiving! This is the time of year that we pause from our busy lives and think about what we are thankful for. Research has shown that gratitude cultivates happiness. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack.
Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami have conducted extensive and fascinating research on gratitude.
In one study, they divided the research participants into three groups. One group wrote about what they were grateful for daily. The second group wrote about what irritated them daily and the third group wrote about daily events with no emphasis on them being positive or negative. Over time, it showed that those who exercised gratitude felt better about their lives, they exercised more and had fewer doctor’s appointments than the other two groups.
I found this study interesting because clearly all people in each group experienced things they are grateful for and things that irritate them. We all have good and bad in our lives every day. This study shows that it doesn’t really matter how much good or bad happens in your life, but rather what you focus on and express that manifests the degree of happiness in life.
Another leading researcher, Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman, a psychologist from the University of Pennsylvania tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people, compared with a control group who wrote about general experiences from childhood, like a diary or journal. The group of participants which showed the greatest impact when looking at happiness scores, wrote and personally delivered a letter of gratitude to someone in their life who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness. Upon delivering the letter, participants exhibited a significant increase in happiness scores and these benefits typically lasted for over a month!
Other studies have shown that gratitude can improve relationships. Couples who regularly express what they are grateful for to their partner, demonstrated an increase in happiness as a couple.
Cultivating what we are thankful for changes us. These thoughts have powerful effects on our lives. What we think about is so important and determines our level of happiness. It has been proven scientifically that having gratitude will exponentially increase our happiness. The bible is also consistent with this research and repeatedly tells us not to worry, to be thankful and to guard our thoughts.
“Whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
I think a key in the previous verse is the peace “which transcends all understanding” In my kidnapping experience when having a near heaven experience, the reality of what I was experiencing was the polar opposite of what an onlooker might assume. This transcends all of our understanding, based on what we “know.” If you have a loved one who is terminally ill and suffering, this is only temporary, they are going “through the fire” and there is something beautiful on the other side!
“Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to him and he will make your path straight.” Proverbs 3: 5-6
It’s natural to focus on the negative when we are going through a difficult time, but in order to get through the fire with happiness, we have to do what might not feel natural. We have to guard our thoughts- as negative thoughts enter, have a positive statement ready to replace that negative thought. For example, if you are thinking that you aren’t good enough, as soon as you notice that thought, think the opposite of that. “I am enough.”
As research and the bible both consistently show us, we must find something to be grateful for. Based on the previous research, here are some tips for cultivating happiness in your life.
- Write a thank you note. Research showed this to be the most effective activity to achieve and sustain happiness.
- Thank someone mentally. If you don’t have the opportunity to write a note or tell the person, just thinking about them and why you’re thankful can create happiness.
- Start a gratitude journal and every day write down what you’re thankful for.
- Count blessings as you go through your day. Make mental notes of the many blessings in your life.
- Pray “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
*For encouraging thoughts, follow my Instagram and Facebook page which can be found on the sidebar of my blog!
I am humbled and deeply thankful for all of the people who follow my blog and support this project. I’m thankful that Through the Fire is being published and will be released in early 2018. I’m thankful for our Heavenly Father who can take even the darkest of stories and turn them into a story which heals and brings hope to others!
Emmons, RA, et al. “Counting Blessings Verses Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Feb2003): Vol.84, No. 2, pp 377-89
Lambert NM, et al. “Expressing Gratitude to a Partner Leads to More Relationship Maintenance Behavior.” Emotion (Feb 2011): Vol 11, No 1, pp 52-60
Seligman MEP, et al. “Empirical Validation of Interventions.” American Psychologist (July-Aug 2005): Vol. 60, No. 1, pp. 410-21.