The Science of Gratitude

Posted By

Weston Lunsford

On

August 18, 2020

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Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others. - Cicero

Scientific research shows gratitude increases productivity and our ability to persuade.  The purpose of this article is to help you identify simple, easy-to-follow recommendations to increase your happiness, productivity and health by exercising the virtue of gratitude.

In a recent article published by Harvard Medical School, the practice of regularly writing down things one is grateful for was shown to correlate to an increase in overall happiness:

Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have done much of the research on gratitude. In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.

One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.

Another leading researcher in this field, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people, each compared with a control assignment of writing about early memories. When their week's assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores. This impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for a month.

“Gratitude helps you to grow and expand, gratitude brings joy and laughter into your life and into the lives of all those around you.” - Eileen Caddy

What is gratitude?  Research on the subject over the past few years have confirmed that gratitude is more than just simply saying “thank you.”  In fact, gratitude is when one has recognized they are the recipient of a benefit and that the benefit came from a source outside themselves – meaning a benefit that came independent of their behavior.

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“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world”

- John Milton

Dr. Emmons, previously mentioned in the research study done on this subject, wrote in one of his publications, “Scientists are latecomers to the concept of gratitude, while religion has long embraced gratitude as an indispensable manifestation of virtue, and an integral component of health, wholeness and well-being.”

There is something to be said for taking time to reflect on the abundance we’ve been given. Doing so can’t help but cause one to realize how much they have, even if their circumstances have been or are currently difficult.

The study by Emmons and McDonald further found that the group focusing on things they were grateful for experienced an increase in energy, alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism, slept better with longer durations, exercised more frequently, and experienced fewer physical symptoms of illness while experiencing less sadness, bitterness, fear, anxiety, and depression.

“Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough.”

-Oprah Winfrey

Dr. Craig Manning of Brigham Young University talks about a law called The Law of Occupied Space, which he indicates means that “no two physical objects can co- exist at the same place at the same time.”  This law of occupied space has the same applications with our hearts and minds.  Hate, anger, fear, depression cannot coexist in the same place at the same time as hope, optimism, and happiness. 

It is nearly impossible to be grateful and feel envious at the same time.  The positive emotions of gratitude can, over time, cancel out many negative emotions.

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Here are some simple, proven methods to strengthen your “gratitude” muscles:

  1. Take a moment and think of people who have had a positive impact in your life. Family members, friends, school teachers, primary teachers, mentors, coaches, or someone who has helped in a difficult time.  Take some time to think about this individual and make a list of some of the ways they’ve helped you.  Finally, take some time to write a few of them or all of them a simple note of gratitude.  This isn’t just a quickly jotted “Thank You” card, but a sincere, thought-out expression of appreciation. 
  2. Verbalize your gratitude often. This can be done without great effort or require significant time. Simply saying “Thank you,” to someone and then indicating why you’re grateful can be meaningful for you and for them.   
  3. SERVE – Look for opportunities to give of yourself. Before the first big snow storm of the year my 8-year-old son was wandering around the house on a Saturday morning with with one of his friends.  They were complaining that there was nothing to do and wanted me to take them to a movie or bowling. I asked if they would be willing to go rake the leaves in our neighbor’s yard. They reluctantly agreed.  These two boys came back several hours later with excitement and huge smiles after spending most of their Saturday in several neighbors' yards.  They were completely satisfied. 
  4. Keep a gratitude journal. Write on a regular basis.  Have a place and space to write the words: “I am grateful for…”  Write things that went well today, and why you think so.  This doesn’t need to be a long process.  It can be as little as 2-5 minutes a day or maybe even 5 minutes a week as a Sunday afternoon activity.

Gratitude is literally one of the few things that can significantly change your life and the lives of those around you including the life in your dental practice.

May we all try to be more grateful for the things we have and live a more joyful life in doing so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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