Gratitude- The Key to Increasing Happiness

The Greatest Gifts of All are those things that add contentment, fulfillment, meaning and of course happiness to our lives. My mission through this project is to identify these "Greatest Gifts" and provide awareness, tools and tactics that help all who are interested to more fully receive these gifts into their lives.

When it comes to happiness psychological research shows that most people's happiness levels are remarkably stable over the long-term. Whether you win the lottery or become disabled in an auto accident, after about three to six months you'll have returned to your usual level of happiness, what Sonja Lyubomirsky, in her very interesting book, The How of Happiness, calls your happiness "set point". These findings are incredibly counter-intuitive and they also raise a serious problem for those wanting to increase levels of happiness permanently.

While Ms. Lyubomirsky book is a bit too clinical and scientific for my taste she does provide "evidence" for what philosophers, writers and grandmothers have been saying for centuries and that is, as she says, "The expression of gratitude is a kind of metastrategy for achieving happiness."  Simply put- being thankful might be the key to raising your happiness 'set-point'.

Dr. Robert A. Emmons in his book 'thanks! describes the following from one of his research projects:

Group 1 was asked to write down 5 things they were grateful for that had happened in the last week for each of the 10 weeks of the study. This was called the gratitude condition.

Group 2 was asked to write down five daily hassles from the previous week. This was the hassles condition.

Group 3 was asked to list 5 events that had occurred in the last week, but not told to focus on positive or negative aspects. This was the events or control condition.

The types of things people listed in the grateful condition included:

  • Sunset through the clouds.
  • The chance to be alive.
  • The generosity of friends.

And in the hassles condition:

  • Taxes.
  • Hard to find parking.
  • Burned my macaroni and cheese.

The Result? Happiness up 25%

People in Group 1, the Gratitude Group, felt 25% happier – they were more optimistic about the future, they felt better about their lives and they even did almost 1.5 hours more exercise a week than those in the hassles or events condition.

Because focusing on gratitude reminds us we owe others and this may remind us of our dependence on others and reduce our sense of personal control Dr. Emmons was surprise at the findings of the study. In my personal experience I have found that this feeling of being connect to others and to nature, this interdependence, evokes gratitude.

This is not an anomaly, there are have been other studies, including studies by Emmons and McCullough, that showed that those in the gratitude condition were significantly happier.

Gratitude can help those with chronic health problems

One of the Emmons and McCullough studies involved adults with neuromuscular disorders. This condition can be seriously debilitating, causing joint and muscle pain as well as muscle atrophy.

In this study a gratitude condition was compared to a control condition in which participants wrote about their daily experience. After the 21 day study, participants in the gratitude condition were found to be more satisfied with their lives overall, more optimistic about the upcoming week and crucially, were sleeping better. Good sleep is important as it has been found to be a great indicator of overall well-being. People who sleep well are generally healthier and happier than those whose sleep is poor.

Where do you start? I'll let Oprah explain…

2 thoughts on “Gratitude- The Key to Increasing Happiness”

  1. While studying human behavior and happiness for the past 10 years, I've come to the same conclusion, that gratitude is the basis for our happiness. I've also learned the gratitude meditation, which brings in the settling of the mind, helping us focus on the present, which is the first step to gratitude and enjoyment. Why not combine the benefits of meditation and gratitude practice and give it a shot? 

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