Gratitude = Happiness
As a prosthodontist and cosmetic dentist in NYC, I am well aware of the stress people are under in day-to-day life. I know that this stress can have an effect on health, even on New Yorker’s dental health. That is why I am bringing this to your attention, as it can actually save your teeth, New Yorkers!
If you count your blessings, you’re much less likely to be counting sheep at night! Sleeping more soundly is but one of the many benefits that researchers have found among people who maintain an attitude of gratitude in their lives. According to Melinda Beck in The Wall Street Journal (November 23, 2010), grateful people are happier, healthier and more successful than moodier people.
Says Beck: “Adults who frequently feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections, and more happiness than those who do not, according to studies conducted over the past decade. They’re also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy or alcoholics. They earn more money, sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly, and have greater resistance to viral infections.”
The benefits of being grateful accrue to children and adolescents as well as adults. Research shows that kids who feel and act grateful “tend to be less materialistic, get better grades, set higher goals, complain of fewer headaches and stomach aches, and feel more satisfied with their friends, families and schools than those who don’t.”
“A lot of these findings are things we learned in kindergarten or our grandmothers told us, but we now have scientific evidence to prove them,” says Jeffrey J. Froh, an assistant professor of psychology at Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY, who has conducted much of the research with children.
The research is part of the “positive psychology” movement, which focuses on developing strengths rather than alleviating disorders. Cultivating gratitude is also a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy, which holds that changing peoples’ thought patterns can dramatically affect their moods.
In a survey of 1,035 high school students, Dr. Froh and his colleagues found that “the most grateful had more friends and higher GPAs, while the most materialistic had lower grades, higher levels of envy, and less satisfaction with life.”
Another study showed that counting blessings can actually make people feel better. It was conducted by Dr. Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California-Davis and a pioneer in gratitude research, and by Dr. Michael McCullough, a psychologist at the University of Miami. Study participants who listed blessings each week had fewer health complaints, exercised more regularly, and felt better about their lives than other participants.
The big question is whether people can learn to be grateful. “Experts believe that about 50% of such temperament is genetic, but the rest comes from experience, so there’s ample opportunity for change,” says Beck. Both children and adults can choose how they feel and how they experience the world. “Look for things to be grateful for, and you’ll start seeing them everywhere.”
One simple way to cultivate gratitude, notes Beck, is to literally count your blessings by keeping a journal and regularly recording what you’re grateful for that day. Another is to adopt a more upbeat mind-set – like sharing what you’re grateful for with friends instead of bonding over gripes and annoyances. Still another is to “fill your head with positive thoughts, express thanks and encouragement aloud, and look for something to be grateful for, not criticize, in those around you, especially loved ones.” Even small increases in positive emotions can make life more satisfying.