Research Paper By Rosemarie Demello
(Life Transformational Coach, INDIA)
Can the heartfelt practice of gratitude be used as an effective and powerful coaching tool?
Can our feelings, behavior and general states of well being be altered by feeling grateful?
These questions ignited my curiosity and snow-balled my intention to present my research paper on the power of gratitude. Since 2000, positive psychology has been interested in gratitude and the impact it can have on one’s life. By taking the time to notice what is good in your life, you tell your brain what is important to attend to and remember. Often the things that we appreciate in life can be overlooked on a day-to-day basis.
A grateful predisposition and the practice of gratitude may increase the access to and the enhancement of positive information regarding one’s life (Rash, Matsuba, & Prkachin, 2011, p. 365).
The Science of Gratitude
Dr. Robert Emmons a leading authority in the field of positive psychology and the effects of gratitude says,
Scientists are latecomers to the concept of gratitude. Religions, philosophies and ancient teachings have long embraced gratitude as an indispensable manifestation of virtue and an integral component of health, wholeness and well being.
Dr Emmons and fellow researcher Michael McCullough describe gratitude as a personality strength – the ability to be keenly aware of the good things that happen to you and never take them for granted. Grateful individuals express their thanks and appreciation for others in a heartfelt way, not just to be polite. If you possess a high level of gratitude you often feel an emotional sense of wonder, thankfulness and appreciation for life itself.
Researchers have found that individuals who exhibit and express the most gratitude are happier, healthier, and more energetic. The more a person is inclined towards gratitude, the less lonely, stressed, anxious or depressed. he or she will be. As research grows in this area the number of studies which show the positive impact of gratitude multiply.
Seligman, Steen, Park, and Peterson (2005) had participants write a letter thanking someone for the positive impact they had on the participant’s life. Participants were asked to then deliver and read the letter aloud to the person they had written to. The researchers found that people who completed the exercise reported experiencing more happiness and less feelings of depression than the control group for up to one month later.
In Rash, Matsuba, and Prkachin’s (2011) study, participants were engaged in a four-week program where gratitude contemplation was encouraged by having participants think about people, or moments that they were grateful for and to sustain the feelings of gratitude for five minutes. The researchers found that participants who completed the contemplation activity had increased levels of satisfaction with life and self-esteem as compared to the participants who were asked to think about a memorable life event.
Emmons and McCullough (2003) examined the impact of having participants create a gratitude list (things they were grateful for) each day. The other participants in the two control groups created lists of either daily hassles or daily neutral events. They found that participants who created the gratitude list reported a reduction in negative affect, better sleep, more feelings of connection to others, increased optimism, and increased positive feelings as compared to the control group participants.
Martin Seligman, a researcher and teacher at the University of Pennsylvania, is considered the father of positive psychology. He developed an inventory, the VIA (which stands for Values In Action) Survey of Character Strengths, which allows individuals to explore character traits and rate their personal strengths and aspects of happiness. He noticed that when an individual had an insufficient appreciation of good events, and an overemphasis of bad or unfortunate experiences, it greatly undermined their serenity, contentment and satisfaction with life.
Gratitude and Human Physiology
To fully understand why gratitude has such positive effects on human states of well being it is helpful to understand how the feeling of gratitude and the thinking of grateful intentions, thoughts and words impacts our physiology, brain chemistry and patterns. In the book, Train Your Brain to Get Happy, authors Aubele, Wenck, and Reynolds note that every thought we have produces chemicals in the brain. When we have negative thoughts, these chemicals slow the brain, reduce our brain’s productivity, and can lead to depression. On the other hand, the brain chemicals produced by positive thoughts
… create a sense of well-being which helps your brain function at peak capacity (2011, p. 70).