My wife, my daughter, my health, my family, my talents, my job, the 100-year-old house we bought this year, our extremely welcoming neighbors, our new town, the daddy/daughter swim class my two-year-old daughter and I take and our weekend walks to the bagel shop, this column and the folks at Inc.com who make writing it the best second job in the world, working in New York City, escaping when it's cold to Florida ...
I could go on, for sure--and no, this isn't exactly how you're supposed to write a gratitude list; ideally, it's more of an everyday habit than a one-time splurge.
But I have to tell you, taking 10 minutes to brainstorm 15 things that I'm truly grateful for had a VERY noticeable effect on my mood. Thinking about the fact that I'm grateful for my wife brought a smile to my face; thinking about my daughter made me laugh at something cute she did this morning. Thinking about heading someplace semitropical when it gets really cold here warmed me right up.
As it turns out, science backs up my anecdotal experience. Mindfully expressing gratitude can make people healthier, more focused, and just plain happier--and the record is strewn with studies reinforcing that conclusion. A few examples:
- Psychologists at the University of Miami did a 10-week experiment in which they asked a group of participants to write each week about things they were grateful for, and asked another group to write about things that annoyed or irritated them. Result: After 10 weeks, the gratitude group felt more optimistic and better about life than the annoyance group. (They also wound up exercising more and had fewer doctor visits.)
- At the University of Pennsylvania, Martin E.P. Seligman, known as the father of positive psychology, found that asking 411 people to "write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness" led to a "a huge increase in happiness scores ... with benefits lasting for a month."
- Writing in the journal Cereb Cortex, researchers determined that "gratitude stimulates the hypothalamus (a key part of the brain that regulates stress) and the ventral tegmental area (part of our 'reward circuitry' that produces the sensation of pleasure)." (Hat tip on this one goes to The New York Times.)
The list goes on. Sure, it feels a bit hokey or corny at first to sit and write a list of things that you're grateful for. ("I totally thought it was B.S." at first, country singer LeAnn Rimes told Inc.com, before explaining how she's become a complete devotee of gratitude lists.) But it's highly effective--and ultimately does seem to change the way people look at the world.
So, for Thanksgiving, or any day, really, why not give it a try? Starting in the comments, let us know a few things that you're grateful for this year. And see whether writing them down and sharing them with the world makes you feel happier.