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The Positive Psychology of Gratitude

Gratitude is about having an awareness of and appreciation for the good things in your life and not taking them for granted. It is about acknowledging the kindness of others. As such, it helps us recognise that we are not solitary creatures and that others have helped and supported us along the way. Gratitude is an important character strength that is strongly correlated with happiness. It is a very positive emotion; after all it is hardly likely that a person can feel bitter, angry and resentful at the same time as feeling grateful. So to be able to experience this emotion more of the time can only be a good thing. As well as increasing our happiness, being grateful ensures we look after ourselves, our relationships and our things.

Gratitude is often regarded as a spiritual act and indeed is embraced by many religions. However, many positive psychology researchers have been investigating the science of gratitude and how engaging in gratitude activities can enhance happiness. What is emerging is that gratitude is not just for the spiritual, it is an intervention that can be beneficial to us all. For instance, research by Seligman found participants who wrote a gratitude letter to someone they had never properly thanked were happier and less depressed one month later compared to those who had simply written about an early memory. Lyubomirsky’s research was even able to show that writing gratitude letters for just 15 minutes a week for 8 weeks were happier 6 months later. Other research has shown gratitude is associated with better life satisfaction, increased social support and may help prevent stress and depression.

Increased awareness of the good things and people in your life amplifies them so you come to see the world differently. Nothing has changed, just your attitude. There are a number of ways to go about this and they are not difficult to do.

Say thank you on a regular basis.

Keep a journal. Spend a few minutes each day reflecting and writing about the good things in your life. Try to notice things you would normally take for granted.

Consider all the different areas of your life. List the things you are grateful for in that area. For example with work, you are grateful you only have a 20 minute commute to work.

Write a letter of gratitude to someone who has made a positive impact on your life. If you can, send it to them. Even better, read it to them.

Each day write down three good things about your life.

Step back and appreciate what you have. Such regular reflection can help prevent you taking your life for granted.

Recall a bad event and how you got through it.

Look for other people’s good deeds and know that the world is better for that act. Express your gratitude – whether privately or publicly.

Reflect on how your life would be if you didn’t have the people in it that you do have. Recognise how much poorer your life would be.

Copyright Julia Barnard 2009
Julia Barnard is a professional counsellor living in Adelaide, Australia. She provides an online counselling service through her website http://www.makethechange.com.au. To get more happiness tips on your homepage or website, she has created a Google gadget.

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