Thanksgiving seems like a good time to share the handout that I used for a recent talk on gratitude.
Gratitude through the Lens of Positive Psychology
Positive Psychology is the rigorous study of what goes right with people, how and when they flourish, what gives them resilience, and how they achieve fulfillment and meaning.
Gratitude is …
1) A momentary positive emotion that broadens behavioral repertoires and builds durable psycho-social resources, as per Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, UNC Kenan Professor of Psychology
- CONTEXT: receive altruistic gift
- TENDENCY: creative giving
- OUTCOME: social bonds, skills for loving, resilience
2) One of 24 character strengths recognized everywhere and across time, as per Drs. Chris Peterson and Martin Seligman, co-authors of Character Strengths and Virtues.
3) Measurable: online no-charge access to measurements of gratitude as a separate factor and as a Values-in-Action (VIA) signature strength: www.authentichappiness.org
- VIA studies: gratitude one of strengths most strongly correlated with well-being
- Other studies: Life satisfaction has a large correlation with gratitude and much smaller correlations with age, education, income, intelligence, and attractiveness.
4) A moral emotion, acting as a moral barometer (someone else has done something good for me), a moral motive (I will now do good things for others) and a moral reinforcer (remembering good things done for me gives me energy to do good for others).
5) A habit that can be cultivated with intentional activity yielding many benefits.
Cultivating Gratitude involves…
1) Acknowledging good things that happen – major and minor. Be mindful of present benefits; enhance the ability to remember positive events.
2) Recognizing that the sources of goodness that are outside us. Much goodness happens to us independent of our own actions. What if we said, “Why me?” when good things happen to us?
Master of Applied Positive Psychology — Certified Professional Coach
1. Gratitude Letter / Visit Exercise
Think of someone who has contributed to your well-being whom you’ve never fully thanked. Write a letter to that person describing the benefits you have received. Be detailed. Describe how the actions made you feel. Take this letter and read it out loud to that person. If possible, do this in person. Take enough time to be together to exchange emotions.
Source: Martin Seligman, Authentic Happiness, 2002
2. Three Blessings / Gratitude Journal Exercise
Each night before bed, write down at least three things that went well today. By putting your gratitude into words, you increase appreciation and memory of your blessings. If your list starts becoming repetitive, break benefits down into multiple components and reflect on each separately. Mentally label your benefits with the word “gift.” When this exercise becomes habitual, it tends to increase happiness and lower depression.
Sources: Martin Seligman, Authentic Happiness, 2002 & Robert Emmons, Thanks! 2007.
3. Thank Everyone for Everything Practice
Establish an ongoing practice of expressing gratitude. Actively watch for things that others do that are helpful, kind, and considerate. Thank them overtly. It can help to send a card or an e-mail. The idea is not to get something back. The act of saying thanks is service to others and is its own reward. Accept thanks from others gracefully. For colleagues and others seen every day, picture yourself building up a “Bank Account of Good Will.”
Source: Michael Frisch, Quality of Life Therapy, 2005
For more on how to cultivate gratitude, see articles in Positive Psychology News Daily:
http://pos-psych.com/news/category/topics/gratitude/ — My article on September 7 includes 6 actions for increasing one’s experience of gratitude. (Google Britton and gratitude for more.)
For more on the subject by a world-class positive psychologist, see Thanks! by Robert Emmons. The book is written for a general audience and includes a lot of pragmatic suggestions. The chapter notes include references to major research on the subject of gratitude.