Try the thank-you therapy and be happy

Research shows that cultivating an attitude of gratitude greatly benefits our general health and contributes to our personal happiness.

Prof. Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis is a ‘gratitude expert’ and has been doing research on the psychology of gratitude for 10 years now.

In a Nov. 2007 online interview with Alvaro Fernandez, co-founder and CEO of SharpBrains (see the Q&A here), Emmons says that gratitude is a “positive emotion” which he and his team are studying “not merely as an academic discipline, but as a practical framework to better functioning in life by taking control of happiness levels and practicing the skill of emotional self-regulation.”

Emmons claims that the practice of gratitude can increase a person’s happiness level by around 25 percent and can bring positive health effects, such as a better sleeping time. He points out that people who keep what he calls a “Gratitude Journal,” where one jots down things he/she feels grateful for, often experience a “meaningful difference” in their level of happiness, even for as little as three weeks of gratitude journaling.

Of course, this positive psychology concept is not entirely new to us. We’ve heard more than once in church sermons or read in self-help books about the benefits of “counting our blessings” and “giving thanks in everything.”

We just couldn’t measure scientifically the results of being in a constant state of thankfulness the way Emmons was able to measure “objective data” in his study of the psychology of gratitude. We just noticed that people, who had a mental gratitude list, looked happier…and healthier. And they exuded that positive aura that made us want to be around them.

It seems, though, that being thankful has become an obsolete practice. A number of people, especially those who live in First World countries, have sadly become a generation of whiners, who take many things for granted.

However, it’s not yet too late to breed an attitude of thankfulness in your lives. By choosing to put into practice the basic principles of the thank-you therapy, you get to raise your happiness level dramatically, enjoy a healthier lifestyle, and build better relationships with others as a result.

Here are a few suggestions on how you can improve your practice of gratitude:

• Write a gratitude list regularly. List down things and/or people you’re thankful for in a journal. Make sure that you write at least five gratitude points a day/week (whichever frequency you prefer) on your journal — e.g. 1) morning hug from your spouse, 2) a surprise call from an old friend, 3) learning how to knit a scarf, 4) a new French word or phrase learned this week, 5) a job offer — and review your thank-you lists regularly. Better yet, create a “gratitude blog” (on Blogspot or WordPress), where you can post your gratitude lists on a regular basis.

• Count your blessings, and share your ‘praise report’ with another person. While keeping a gratitude journal does help cultivate an attitude of gratitude, sharing your list of blessings you’re thankful for with another person boosts your personal gratitude practice a hundredfold. Hopefully, your positive attitude will rub off on him/her.

• Thank someone today. Think of a person who has helped you tremendously in the past (i.e. did you a great favor) or has inspired you to be the successful person you are today. It can be your mom or dad, your sis, your teacher, your classmate, or your friend. Send him/her a personalized thank-you snail mail, pointing out how he/she made a difference in your life.

• Surround yourself with ‘gratitude practitioners.’ The company you keep is vital to maintaining a thank-you therapy that will work and last for a long time. If you spend more time with grumblers than with grateful people, you’ll soon become one of the whiners, who complain at every hassle that they encounter day in and day out.

• Always try to see the bright side of life. It’s not easy to be thankful when your mind is automatically set on a glass-half-empty mode. True, life is not always a bed of roses — bad things do happen in all parts of the world — but it helps to remain hopeful when things go wrong. Hope is a great thing.

• Look around you and appreciate the beauty of creation. Take time to smell the roses, as the cliche goes. Be thankful for the fresh air, the blue skies, the colorful blooms, the scenic mountains, the laughing children, and all the beautiful things around you.

• Focus on what you have, and not on what you don’t have. Think of the things you do have — i.e. your family and friends, house/apartment, education, job, food on the table, etc. — and make a conscious effort to be thankful for them.

• Say a ‘thank you’ prayer every day. At the end of each day, review how your day went and thank God for all the blessings (e.g. a safe journey to your destination, a sumptuous meal, a productive meeting, a new friend, etc.) that have come your way. Be as specific as possible.

Feeling and expressing gratitude may be quite a challenge in these tough times, but it’s doable. And the sooner you start your own thank-you therapy, the sooner you’ll reap the rewards: a healthier and happier you.