Gratitude | Positive Psychology Concepts Series

Author: Katya Santucci

This blog has been reviewed by Elizabeth Razzouk and Catherine Cimon-Paquet, edited by Rémi Thériault

In this Positive Psychology Concepts series, we will introduce you to different aspects of positive psychology and introduce you to different science-based practices that will help you increase your well-being.

A few months ago, I came across a small project I had completed for a psychology course in college. In this assignment, I had been writing down three things that I was grateful for each day, over the span of two weeks. After reading what past me had jotted down, I was reminded of how good it felt to be appreciative and how such a simple exercise could calm the mind and bring about inner peace. It got me thinking: Do we truly take the time to reflect on the ways in which we are blessed? Probably not. Oftentimes we hear about tragic stories and the hardships individuals in our community are faced with, and for a brief moment, we will remind ourselves that we should “never take anything for granted!” but this thought is often short-lived. In fact, many of us can agree that we do not wake up every morning or go to bed feeling thankful — and this was something that I personally wanted to work on. I started to actively list the things that I was grateful for on a daily basis. As a result, I noticed a positive shift in my everyday perspective. For example, I started to appreciate the little things rather than get caught up on every slight inconvenience that occurred (…in other words, I started to drop my pessimistic ways).

A simple exercise could calm the mind and bring about inner peace…

The science behind gratitude

Gratitude is a prominent topic of discussion in both pop culture and in the scientific world. It can be defined as an emotion or psychological state that is obtained through the process of acknowledging and appreciating something in your possession, whether it is tangible or intangible, big or small (1). You will notice that reflecting on what you are thankful for creates sensational feelings of happiness, positivity and sanctity — this is the essence of gratitude. Most notably, there are motivating individual and social benefits of experiencing gratitude.

Reflecting on what you are thankful for creates sensational feelings of happiness, positivity and sanctity…

Existing research has documented the many associations between gratitude and positive outcomes. For example, gratitude has been associated with greater life satisfaction, self-esteem, goal-attainment and overall well-being (1). It has also been linked with greater prosocial actions (e.g. volunteering, donating) which also leads to increased personal satisfaction. A striking finding is that gratitude can impactfully help one cope with stressors, both acute and chronic (2). It also contributes to the development of resilience in the face of adversities. In addition, the expression of gratitude can extend to interpersonal relationships; this occurs when one is grateful for the actions of another person in their life. In fact, researchers have identified gratitude as a social emotion given the positive impact it has on social bonds (2). Acknowledging and reciprocating grateful feelings for one another offers many relational benefits such as fostering relationship closeness and maintenance (3). In a nutshell, research suggests that having a grateful outlook is associated with greater physical and mental health and more intimate social relations.

Gratitude contributes to the development of resilience in the face of adversities

Gratitude journaling is a common method for implementing appreciation in everyday life and making it part of your routine. It entails documenting, for example on a piece of paper or notepad (i.e., a “journal”), the instances in which you’ve felt grateful in the past or present. In a longitudinal randomized controlled study, researchers concluded that a traditional journal — in which individuals documented what they were grateful for on a specific day — had positive effects on both subjective well-being and relationship quality (4). Gratitude journaling has also been linked with self-clarity and self-awareness as it directs your attention to what you truly value. In another light, gratitude lettering is a method of expressing gratitude for a significant or close other (i.e., by writing a gratitude letter to another person, whether you decide to send it or not). In this case, you are addressing a specific individual and relaying your gratitude for them — for example, they may have touched your life with their words or actions, which may be something you wish to share with them.

Try it out!

If you’re reading this, try writing down a few things that you are grateful for. Yes!! Right now. Grab a paper and a pen and at the top of the paper write today’s date. Next, take a moment to think about what comes to mind, what is positive in your life? What makes you feel good? Here’s mine: I am grateful that I was able to wake up to a warm house on this chilly morning. Once you take a second to think about this, you would be surprised to realize how much there truly is to be grateful for. I’m sharing a few others:

  1. Today, I am grateful for my dog who brightens my day with his morning kisses.
  2. Today, I am grateful that I get to sleep in clean sheets.
  3. Today, I am grateful for my boyfriend who always checks in on me.

I encourage you to actively start your own gratitude journal — once or twice a week take a few minutes to jot down what you are grateful for that day or in general (Note: if writing is not your thing, you can always shift to a meditative state in which your focus would be on generating a feeling of gratitude). This is also a great way to give yourself a mood booster! We spend an abundance of time ruminating on what goes wrong or why things did not go as planned… and as a result, we end up overlooking our happy moments and the good that we have. It is also a good way to self-motivate and foster a positive outlook. With time, you will begin to recognize the little things you have taken for granted and learn to hold on to them. When journaling, it is important to remember that there is no right or wrong and you don’t have to overdo it. It is tailored to you — what is important is that you are acknowledging something that you personally appreciate.

With time, you will begin to recognize the little things you have taken for granted and learn to hold on to them.

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Happy to have you here!

If you have any experiences with gratitude journaling and would like to share, feel free to comment below or to reach out. I am also always happy to receive inquiries! katya.santucci@mail.mcgill.ca

If you haven’t already — join the CPPA Student Membership for all things positive psych ☺ check it out here! https://www.cppa.ca/Student-Zone

References

  1. Emmons, R. A., & Shelton, C. M. (2002). Gratitude and the science of positive psychology. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 459–471). New York: Oxford University Press.
  2. Emmons, R. A. & Mishra, A. (2011). Why gratitude enhances wellbeing: What we know, what we need to know. In K. M. Sheldon, T. B. Kashdan & M. F. Steger (Eds.), Designing positive psychology: Taking stock and moving forward (pp. 248–262). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  3. Lambert, N. M., & Fincham, F. D. (2011). Expressing gratitude to a partner leads to more relationship maintenance behavior. Emotion, 11(1), 52.
  4. O’Connell, B. H., O’Shea, D., & Gallagher, S. (2017). Examining psychosocial pathways underlying gratitude interventions: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Happiness Studies. 1–24.

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