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).
Dr Masaru Emoto, a visionary and internationally renowned researcher from Japan, began to study the impact of altering water by various factors of vibration and consciousness. He studied water that had been altered by music – healing music, classical music, heavy metal music – and so forth. The crystalline pictures revealed how water responds to these influences … into complex arrangements of crystalline beauty. This begins to reveal that water is alive – it is conscious and responds to applied force by a rearrangement of its inner crystalline properties. Inspired by these revelations, he decided to study the impact of human consciousness on water and its crystalline order. Through repeatable experiments Dr. Emoto demonstrated that human thoughts and emotions can alter the molecular structure of water. Now, for the first time, there is physical evidence that the power of our thoughts can change the world within and around us.
He found that water that had been consciously altered by the simple imprinting of a word of intent would change. Water that was imprinted by love, gratitude, and appreciation, responded by the development of complex beautifully formed crystals, and water that was mistreated by negative intentions and words became disordered and lost it’s magnificent patterning. In fact, it often took on grotesque forms of resonance. After much experimentation, Dr. Emoto discovered that the most powerful combination of thoughts in terms of capacity to transform was that of “Love and Gratitude.” These experiments show that gratitude is one of humanity’s most powerful emotions. So counting our blessings on a regular basis can improve our moods and overall level of happiness and health, and expressing that appreciation to others has a magnified and powerful effect.
Challenges to Feeling Grateful
Although we may acknowledge gratitude’s benefits, it can still feel difficult to feel grateful when we are going through a difficult time. That’s why it makes so much sense to practice gratitude, in good times and bad. It may be human nature to notice all that is wrong or all that we lack, but if we give ourselves the chance on a regular basis to notice all of lives gifts and blessings, we can increase our sense of well-being, and create hope and optimism for the future—no matter what is going on. Try to see the positive aspects associated with difficult experiences. Can you appreciate them as an opportunity to learn and grow? This simple change in perception can transform a challenge into something positive.
How do we increase our feelings of gratitude even if life presents great adversity? We work our gratitude muscle! Little by little. It will begin to rewire our brain and build our positive re-set button so we are better able to see the light at the end of the tunnel and more and more able to find solutions and shift our perspective to one that is more empowering.
Exercises and Tools to make the Shift into Gratitude
Here are simple yet powerful strategies to bring the practice of gratitude into your life:
Keep a gratitude journal. At the end of each day (or week), write down 3-5 things that you feel good about; things that made you smile, things that left you feeling humbled, appreciative or thankful. Begin to view the world from that of an artist, poet or writer. Notice the small things that create such beauty and wonder; your baby’s smile, a beautiful view, or your best friend’s laughter. Relish the feeling you get when remembering and journaling about these. Count your blessings often, this has a cumulative effect and multiplies the feel good factor! For best results, this exercise is best done daily or weekly for one month and then kept up as a regular routine in building your gratitude muscle.
- Have a morning gratitude review. Make it a daily ritual to take a few minutes in the morning to think of and appreciate those people you love and the things your grateful for.
- Express your gratitude. Take the time to share your feelings. Not the simple, polite thank you, but the heartfelt emotions. Tell your friend how her support and sense of humor helps you get through tough times, and how much it means to you. Don’t take your loved ones for granted. Let them know how much you love them and why.
- Letters of Gratitude. Write gratitude letters to significant individuals in your life. People who have impacted you in a positive ways. Share your gratitude letters with the recipients. Research has shown this foster’s not only increased feelings of joy, but also a closer meaning and pleasure derived from the relationship.
- Pay it forward – Service to others is a way to ‘action gratitude’ in your life by giving back. It’s immensely rewarding for both the giver and the receiver.
- Look for what is right about a situation, not what’s wrong. Sure you’re frustrated by rush hour traffic, but thankfully you have an understanding boss. Service at the restaurant is poor, but you are lucky to afford an evening out surrounded by good friends.
- Avoid criticizing, show gratitude. This simple strategy can literally transform an important relationship like a marriage. If you constantly criticize your spouse, your marriage will slowly deteriorate. Yes, it’s important to be able to talk out problems, but no one likes to be criticized all the time. So, when you find yourself feeling the urge to criticize, stop. Now take a moment to think about all the reasons you are truly grateful for your spouse. What would you miss if they were not a part of your life?
- Practice gratitude with your family and friends. Encourage each family member to talk about one thing that happened during day that they feel grateful for. When you hear a friend moaning and complaining, challenge him or her to find the hidden opportunity or silver lining to the situation.
- Enjoy the benefits. The more you focus on gratitude the more you will appreciate your life and the happier you will be. An appreciative attitude will also make you more aware of your blessings and prevent you from taking them for granted. Remember, the happiest people are NOT the ones who have the best of everything, they the ones who appreciate all that they do have.Focus on what you HAVE that’s good and right and working in your life, not what you don’t have. This practice will re-set your thinking patterns and you will start to see more and more things to be grateful for and experience a greater sense of well being.
Gratitude can be a powerful antidote to the challenges of life and can support us in achieving better health, relationships and peace of mind. It is cumulative in its effect. This takes awareness, continual checking in and practice – just like learning any new skill. We practice the skill of being more grateful by intentionally choosing to feel grateful.
As we practice and feel gratitude from the heart it re-wires our brain and nervous system. Gratitude beneficially changes our brain chemistry; the ways that neurons fire, our hormones, and even our immune system. Gratitude allows us to cultivate a positive mindset by our mindful acknowledgement of the positive things in our lives. As we choose gratitude, the brain will seek positive patterns. We become more optimistic, more apt at dealing with challenges, and experience less stress and more peace. Bringing the practice of gratitude into our coaching sessions adds an indispensable and powerful tool to further support our clients in attaining their goals and achieving an optimum state of BEING.
Thank You for each new morning with the light, for rest and shelter of the night, for health and food, for love and friends, for everything, thy goodness sends – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Aubele, Wenck & Reynolds -Train your Brain to get Happy. 2011
Emmons R.A and McCullough, M.E. (2003) – Count your Blessings V’s Burdens
Saligman, Martin. 2002. Authentic Happiness. New York Free Press
Dr. Masaru Emoto -The Hidden Messages in Water. Beyond Words Publishing
Robert A. Emmons – Thanks! How the new science of Gratitude can make you Happier
Barbara Friedrickson – Positivity - Ground Breaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions.
Crown Publishers U Tube : Science of Happiness
U Tube: Dr Joe Dispenze - What happens to the brain when you practice gratitude www.thechangeblog.com
Count Your Blessings: The Healing Power of gratitude and Love by John F Demartini. Hay House 2006
The Gratitude Factor – Enhancing your life through Grateful Living by Charles. M Sheldon PhD