“Gratitude Grows as Salutary Habit”
The Christian Science Monitor, November 28, 2003
pp. 1 - 4
“For many Americans, Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday. Gathering at the table with family and friends in memory-filled tradition. Plenty of soul-satisfying food. And, the special feeling that comes from sharing gratitude.
‘Thanksgiving has always been a favorite: It’s a time for gratitude and a holiday we haven’t messed up!’ says Susan Kirby, a California mother of two. That feeling is garnering a lot more attention these days, and not just during the fourth week of November. A universal experience and a component of many religious traditions for centuries, gratitude is being recognized not simply as a desirable virtue, but also as an essential element to wholeness and well-being.
As latecomers to the concept, scientists are now engaged in long-term research that has already confirmed a host of beneficial outcomes, from healthier, more satisfying lives to greater vitality and more generous outreach to help others. ‘We’re seeing how concrete the effects of a grateful focus are.’ says Robert Emmons, a leading psychologist in the field. And people from many cultures are seeking ways to make gratitude a more conscious daily altitude that shapes their experience. For some, keeping gratitude diaries or journals helps them be more consistently reflective. Others are turning to websites to energize their practice. Thousands of participants from 186 countries, for example, visit www.gratefulness.org to share thoughts on message boards or light a cyber candle in gratitude.
‘We wanted to create something that could be popular, enjoyable, and do some good.’ says Tory Gattis, manager of a technology start-up firm, who set the site up with several friends. ‘People like helping other people out.’ Gratitude research is part of the growing field of positive psychology, which focuses on the strengths of human beings. In simple terms, it’s an empirical test of counting one’s blessings. ‘We’re trying to find ways to measure the healing power of gratitude in people’s lives.’ says Dr. Emmons, a professor at the University of California, Davis. They’re also studying the causes of and impediments to gratitude and developing methods to help people cultivate it.
For example, ‘the simple act of keeping a gratitude journal on a regular basis seems to have so many different effects.’ says Emmons. ‘People feel closer to God, sleep better, feel more connected to others, and make more progress toward important personal goals.’ They also report fewer symptoms of illness and higher levels of energy than do those in control groups.”