People who take the time to gratefully reflect on their lives just once a year on Thanksgiving Day are cheating themselves — and scientists are proving it.
One of those scientists — but by no means the only one — is Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D, who is author of Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier (published earlier in hardcover with the title Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier). His research has shown that the old adage, "Count your blessings," is a really powerful prescription for a better life.
"Preliminary findings suggest that those who regularly practice grateful thinking do reap emotional, physical, and interpersonal benefits," he writes. And if you do more than gratefully reflect — if you write down what you are grateful for — the benefits are even clearer.
Says Emmons: "Adults who keep gratitude journals on a regular basis exercise more regularly, report fewer illness symptoms, feel better about their lives as a whole, and are more optimistic about the future."
The professor's research also indicates that gratitude is a gateway to other graces in life. "When people report feeling grateful, thankful, and appreciative, they also feel more loving, forgiving, joyful, and enthusiastic," he says.
And not only does gratitude make people feel better, Emmons' research shows it actually motivates them to do better — whether it's performing in cognitive tests or helping others.
He concludes his book with 10 suggestions for becoming more grateful, staying that way and reaping the benefits. Here are a few of them:
- Keep a gratitude journal — and the more you use it, the better. Daily is best, but weekly will still contribute to the quality of your life.
- Remember the bad — don't obsess on past ordeals and failures, but deliberately reflecting on them occasionally provides helpful perspective on how good things are now.
- Learn prayers of gratitude — and say them.
- Come to your senses — "Through our senses, we gain an appreciation of what it means to be human, of what an incredible miracle it is to be alive," Emmons writes. Savor what your senses detect — sights, smells, sounds, tastes and textures — and let yourself be grateful for the experiences.
- Make a vow to practice gratitude — whether it's something as simple as promising not to take so many good things in your life for granted or resolving to thank someone who has been a helpful influence in your life, make a promise to God — and then keep it.
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