Conscious feelings of gratitude can contribute to overall happiness. It may seem obvious, but we now have some interesting data and examples from UC Berkeley. Sara Orem described her experience teaching a “module” course on gratitude to adults through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UC Berkeley, from the Greater Good Science Center’s online course The Science of Happiness.
Participants in the course read articles, watched videos, and worked on gratitude practices at home each week, and then came to five weekly classes to discuss. The group kept a gratitude journal, wrote a gratitude letter, and expressed gratitude as a way to recover from a negative experience. They also tried a new gratitude practice between class sessions, such as watching inspiring videos or appreciating nature. A final project involved participants planning to write a “gratitude letter.”
And the results? As Orem reports, after students filled out before-and-after surveys on their gratitude and life satisfaction, the average gratitude score went up from 5 to 6.6 (out of 7), and the number of people who were highly satisfied with their life doubled. But she was most struck by some of the individual stories:
During our first session, our oldest participant expressed concern that the course would be too challenging for her. “Say more about that,” I asked. Abigail said, “I thought you were going to teach me two or three more ways to say thank you. This isn’t that. This is going to require that I think more deeply about my approach to life and I’m not sure I’m up to it.”
At the end of the first class, I said that I hoped Abigail would consider coming back the following week. She responded, “Oh, I’ve already decided I’m going to try to meet the challenge.”
And some students took some inspiring concrete steps to follow:
Brian said he would write a letter of appreciation to his secretary, who had made his professional life so much easier and smoother. As a lifelong military officer, he told us that these letters were very important in military files to facilitate promotions and awards. At the end of class, he expressed his own gratitude for the course and for the change it had made in his approach to life. Like Abigail, he had decided to meet the gratitude challenge.
Not that everyone has the time and inclination to take such a course, but it’s a reminder that making an effort to mark reasons for gratitude and then following up with concrete steps can make you happier overall — and probably the people around you, too.
A reminder from Lisa Earle McLeod of the power of being thankful:
Look at anyone who feels like life is treating them wrong, you’ll see a total absence of gratitude. When you’re stuck in victimhood – be it lifelong victimhood or anger at the driver who cut you off on the freeway – you’re only thinking about yourself. It might not seem like self-focus when you’re feeling wronged by a boss or spouse, but in that state, all your attention is on your own negative feelings. Victimhood takes the negative aspect of a situation, pulls it inward and keeps it there.
Gratitude is different. Standing in gratitude is about seeing the good, bringing it in, and then it naturally radiates back out. For me, gratitude is not a pious head down, taking only meager offerings attitude. Gratitude is a head up smiling openhearted glow.
This may be one of the secret sauces for many religions, which often encourage gratitude and thankfulness on a daily (if not hourly) basis. And once you start saying or thinking these positive thoughts, cognitive behavioralism kicks in and can actually make you feel better.