– by Lee Smith, Ph.D.

We read and hear in the media about all sorts of things that we’re doing ‘wrong’, that we should do more of, less of, and on and on. Do we crave some sort of disembodied scolding, the wagging finger expression of some quasi-parental concern for us? Maybe. Or might we be drawn to ideas that may help us to sort things out and to become a little more content and safe in our lives? To this loud chorus I’m going to add my little voice today.

I want to survey for you a body of recent research that has really delighted me. This research would seem to be revealing that marked improvements in our well-being can result from something that we can do even just once a week for only a few moments – just a few moments! Continuing to do this for a couple of months seems to bring about some striking and lasting changes. That the research shows that people have less depression and more contentedness from completing this brief mental activity, which requires less than five minutes a week, is amazing to me.

What could we possibly do with our brain in such a short period of time that would act like a kind of inoculation or correction against all of the other troubling stuff that goes on in our mind? Further, what little act of attention would produce a strong tendency to be less confrontational, more cooperative, kinder and gentler?

And there are no costs, no nasty side-effects or contraindications, does not cause drowsiness or constipation, you can operate heavy equipment and you won’t be kicked off a plane for doing it.

Our colleague, Dr. Seuss, prescribed just this balm for the spirit long ago: “It’s a troublesome world. All the people who’re in it are troubled with troubles almost every minute. You ought to be thankful, a whole heaping lot, for the places and people you’re lucky you’re not.”

Gratitude is a sense of thankfulness and joy for someone or for something you experience, whether a gift, a kindness or a moment of awareness of some natural beauty. Gratitude might be a passing state, but it’s also something of a trainable trait, a “life orientation toward noticing and appreciating the positive in life.”

Researchers asked people to write one sentence for each of five things for which they feel grateful and to do this once a week for two months. After these two months of keeping a gratitude journal, as compared to control groups, people felt more optimistic, had fewer physical complaints and were exercising more. The changes weren’t just subjective because spouses also noticed positive shifts. In other research, people suffering neuromuscular diseases felt happier, slept better and felt more refreshed.

Across ages gratitude increases well-being regardless of personality type. Youth who are more grateful have a higher grade point average, greater life satisfaction and more social involvement. They also have less depression and less envy than their less grateful and more materialistic counterparts; materialism is associated with more envy and a lower GPA.

The positive emotion evoked by being grateful on purpose increases our resilience, it firmly disposes us to be in relation to others with more warmth and it becomes reciprocal very quickly. Expressing your gratitude to your partner encourages mutual positive ‘maintenance work’ on your relationship.

Gratitude inspires a sense of life being well-lived. Among the elderly, gratitude is associated with a decrease in death anxiety.

Touch in to gratitude regularly. If you’re feeling irritated, if you’re feeling like your head might explode over some tension or misdeed, a moment of grateful reflection may be the most radiant gift that you can either give or receive.