The power of gratitude

by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company LLC

Feeling dissatisfied is an entrepreneur’s occupational hazard.

We make a lot of progress by noticing what’s wrong — what need is going unmet for our prospective clients, what opportunity is going begging, what improvement is possible? While noticing what’s not right leads us to opportunities, chronic dissatisfaction wears on our spirits.

Adopting practices that create a grateful attitude is a powerful stress-reducer. For several years I have kept a small notebook in which I have recorded successes large and small, all the things for which I am grateful, recording things daily or weekly. I often recommend this practice to my clients as well.

It turns out that science is confirming what philosophers have known for ages. Calling gratitude the “forgotten factor” in happiness research, two researchers have been studying gratitude’s effect on well-being. Their findings include:

* In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).

* A related benefit was observed in the realm of personal goal attainment: Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions.

* A daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison (ways in which participants thought they were better off than others). There was no difference in levels of unpleasant emotions reported in the three groups.

* Participants in the daily gratitude condition were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another, relative to the hassles or social comparison condition.

* In a sample of adults with neuromuscular disease, a 21-day gratitude intervention resulted in greater amounts of high energy positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others, more optimistic ratings of one’s life, and better sleep duration and sleep quality, relative to a control group.

Reconstructed house at Plimoth Plantation, Plymouth, MA
Reconstructed house at Plimoth Plantation, Plymouth, MA

The Plymouth Pilgrims set us a good example. As the Thanksgiving holiday draws near in the United States, let’s pause a moment to consider all the things for which we may be grateful. Record some of yours by leaving a comment here.

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