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Farmer — Gratitute plays such a positive role in our lives

What is gratitude? How does it relate to happiness, coping, and well being?

Psychologists Michael McCullough of the University of Miami (formerly from Southern Methodist University) and Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis studied how gratitude affects our lives and sense of well-being. Here are some of the key points they make on how gratitude works in our lives.

Gratitude is an overall tendency to recognize the contributions of others to the good things that are happening in our lives. Feeling grateful is experienced as pleasant and positive emotion.

More than an emotion, more than a mood; it is a habitual way of looking at the world. To their surprise, McCullough and Emmons found that gratitude isn’t related to daily events but represents an attitude of appreciation for life in general.

Grateful people see gifts in the trivial and mundane. Highly grateful people possess a world view in which everything they have — even life itself — are gifts. They don’t take the little things of life for granted.

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McCullough’s and Emmons’ research shows that grateful people:

• Recognize when good things happen to them, feel gratitude more intensely when something good happens and feel gratitude many times during the day for the simplest acts of kindness or politeness.

• They feel grateful for their families, jobs, health, and friends.

• See how the efforts of others contribute to their happiness. They also make the connection between how many people’s efforts contribute to good outcomes. Less grateful people focus narrowly on just one or two people for the same outcome. Grateful people don’t discount their own efforts. They stretch their appreciation to include other causes and contributions.

• They are more agreeable. They can take the perspective of others. They display a greater willingness to forgive and not hold on to hurts. They are more optimistic, hopeful and more socially engaging. They are more likely to describe themselves as happy or satisfied in life.

• Are more spiritual. Their ability to see the contributions of others to their lives is also extended to God and God’s intervention. This isn’t true for the negative events in their lives. McCullough found that gratitude isn’t confined to those with formalized religious faith. It’s also shared by those who have a sense of the divine and spirituality in the Universe and believe in the interconnection of all living things.

• Have less depression and anxiety. McCullough points out that people can consciously elevate their moods by cultivating and expressing gratitude. They are better able to cope with acute and chronic stressful events. Gratitude might be the mediating factor that explains why religious people have better physical and mental health outcomes when faced with a health crisis.

• Grateful people don’t find happiness in material things, influence, power or sex appeal. They don’t judge their own worth by worldly standards and are less likely to judge others’ success in terms of possessions accumulated. They are less envious and resentful of others’ success.

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• Are judged by others as kind, warm-hearted and generous. Not only do they see people being good to them, but they also notice another’s plight and are more sympathetic and helpful.

• The fortunate vs. unfortunate. Grateful people often have modest financial means or have suffered tragedies while many who are well-to-do exhibit little gratitude. A sense of thankfulness can turn someone’s life from bitter to positive.

People who are indebted report more anger and lower levels of appreciation, happiness and love compared to grateful people. They are less likely to express appreciation or gratitude.

Emmons suggests, "To say we feel grateful is not to say that everything in our lives is necessarily great. If just means we are aware of our blessings."

A common epitaph on headstones in cemeteries in Denmark is "Tak", which means "thanks." It’s a wonderful word to express the gift of their lives and to express to all who come to remember them. If they lived with a thankful heart, they had a good life.

For more information on values and happiness, visit Val Farmer’s web site at www.valfarmer.com.

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