In celebration of World Gratitude Day (Sept. 21), we’re digging into the latest research on the science of gratitude and it’s enormously positive impact for you and for the workplace.
There’s a lot out there lately. The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley has been focusing in recent months on the connections between gratitude and wellbeing. Care about employee wellbeing? This month they’re posting video excerpts from talks at the Greater Good Gratitude Summit held in June.
The more researchers examine the effects of gratitude, the clearer it becomes that showing gratitude isn’t just an optional “nice” thing to do but a powerful multifaceted tool that can help in interpersonal communication, individual resilience, decision-making, physical and emotional healing, group dynamics, stress reduction, productivity and everyday happiness.
Here are some highlights from talks at the Greater Good Gratitude Summit and from research in current discussion at Greater Good.
1. The 3 Foundations of Gratitude
[Tweet “”Gratitude has the power to heal, to energize and to change lives.” —Robert Emmons”]
“Gratitude has the power to heal, to energize and to change lives,” says Robert Emmons, professor of psychology, gratitude expert and author of Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier. This phrase has become his mantra.
In his introductory talk at the Greater Good conference, Emmons discusses the plethora of new books about gratitude. More gratitude research is underway, and mainstream interest growing, he added: “We’re in somewhat of a gratitude renaissance,” he says.
The first step toward understanding gratitude is to break it down into elements, or the “three foundational rocks upon which we can build.” These are:
- Joy: Look for the good and rejoice in it
- Grace: Receive the good and savor it
- Love: Give back the good
2. Grateful People Respond Better to Stress
Dr. Wendy Mendes studies the biological effects of gratitude, including sleep quality, longevity and health, and how levels of oxytocin (the “love hormone”) correspond with gratitude. At the Greater Good conference, she gave an overview of her research.
People with high levels of gratitude are healthier than those reporting lower levels of gratitude, in just about every category of wellness that can measured with biological markers, such as blood pressure. People with high levels of gratitude have lower blood pressure, for example. Interestingly, gratitude is also a predictor of how people react to stress.
When confronted with a stressful situation, the more grateful group also demonstrated a smaller spike in blood pressure compared to those who reported fewer feelings of gratitude. This is resilience, on a biological level. It explains why grateful people are able to bounce back from stress or hardships more quickly.
3. Count Gratitude, Not Kindnesses or Mood
A daily journal focused on gratitude is often a recommended practice for those seeking a happier, more calm daily life. It also works as a fast-acting emergency intervention for clinically distressed people waiting for psychotherapy sessions to begin. A study published this year in the Journal of Happiness found that daily journaling about gratitude can help those suffering anxiety, depression, substance abuse or an eating disorder in as little as two weeks.
Not only that, a journal tracking gratitude specifically — not mood or kindness — is the most effective mood booster. The Greater Good Science Center summed up the findings like this:
“Those in the gratitude group did report feeling more grateful at the end of these two weeks, but those in the kindness group didn’t get the same kind of benefit. That is, those who counted their kindnesses didn’t come out kinder because of it, suggesting that gratitude, but not kindness, can be cultivated in this short amount of time.”
The study is revolutionary, according to Greater Good editorial assistant Lauren Klein, because it’s the first of its kind to suggest that “self-administered positive psychological strategies [such as gratitude journals] aren’t just for happy people who are looking to be happier.” In fact, the people who can benefit the most from gratitude journaling may be those with the least obvious reasons to be grateful, whether these people are clinically distressed or experiencing outside stressors such as leading a financially struggling business.
4. The Social Benefits of Gratitude
Comparing gratitude to a microphone or magnifying glass, Dr. Philip Watkins of Eastern Washington University says gratitude “amplifies” or “magnifies” the good already present in one’s life. He discusses in a talk at the Greater Good conference how this dynamic plays out socially in group situations, according to a recent study. Grateful people participating in the study were rated as much more likable — and more likely to be helpful.
Interested in learning more about scientific research into happiness, gratitude, kindness and appreciation? The Greater Good Science Center is offering a free 8-week online course in “The Science of Happiness.” The course kicked off Sept. 9, but you can jump in anytime through next May and take it at your own pace.
Looking for ways to bring the powerful benefits of gratitude to your workplace? It’s easier than you might think. Learn how in our FREE eBook, “Transform Your Workplace with Gratitude.” Download now and start today!
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