By Kathryn Berg
The Village Business Institute
Is it too obvious, with Thanksgiving approaching, to write about gratitude? Yes, probably. I find, especially around Thanksgiving, everyone tends to remember that it’s important and good and worthwhile—and a lot of other bland descriptive words—to express gratitude. But, most of the time, the expression of gratitude becomes a “should do” or “have to do” practice rather than a “want to do” activity. It almost becomes a heavy burden that we have to drag with us throughout the holiday season, adding one more responsibility to our ever-growing list.
In order for me to shake that weight of the “should dos,” I always need to change my perspective. I love to look at alternate points of view to create new ways of thinking. In the course of my research for a training topic, I’ve learned a lot about the science behind gratitude, and it has really changed my attitude on thankfulness as a whole. There are so many biological benefits to gratitude that even the most selfish person can see its expression as a “want to do.”
The field of positive psychology studies happiness: where it comes from, how to achieve it, and so on. One of prominent psychologists in this field, Dr. Robert Emmons at UC-Berkeley, focuses largely on the link between wellbeing and gratitude—he is even part of the Expanding Gratitude Project, an initiative at UC-Berkeley and UC-Davis that aims to “engage the public in a larger cultural conversation about the role of gratitude in civil society.” They hope to do so by growing our knowledge of the benefits of expressing gratitude.
These benefits are real and far-reaching. They include anything and everything from having a robust immune systems and low blood pressure to stronger relationships and fewer feelings of loneliness and isolation. People who regularly express gratitude are happier, can more easily recognize joy in their lives, and tend to become more optimistic. They also tend to practice greater generosity and compassion. A quick scroll through research studies online at the Greater Good Science Center (a really great name for a research institution, unless, of course, you are a devout Harry Potter fan like me), home of the Expanding Gratitude Project, shows 16 studies citing a correlation between wellbeing and gratitude.
Rather than slog through these research studies, I want to look again to Dr. Emmons and some of his suggestions for the real-life application of gratitude. His ideas are simple yet diverse, making it easy for any person to turn gratitude from a “have to” to a “want to.”
Keep a gratitude journal.
Make a conscious effort to “recall moments of gratitude associated with ordinary events, your personal attributes, or valued people in your life.” This practice makes it easier to recognize good things, even on bad days.
Come to your senses.
Focusing on every one of your senses (sight, hearing, feeling, taste, and smell) allows you to further appreciate the great improbability that you are alive. Sometimes it’s easy to forget, when entrenched in the daily grind, that the fact that we have the opportunity to live on this planet is practically a miracle.
Go through the motions
Studies have shown that smiling, even if it’s fake smiling, makes you happier. The same can be said for saying thank you, writing letters of appreciation, and other thankful activities. Even if your heart isn’t in it at the outset, your grateful emotions will eventually be triggered, and you will feel more grateful and happier as a result.
Dr. Emmons details several more ways to incorporate gratitude into your daily life on the Greater Good Science Center website. If you are interested in the scientific research and practical application of gratitude that are part of the Expanding Gratitude Project, I highly recommend you check out their website at greatergood.berkeley.edu. While you do that, I’m going to check out Etsy: if I’m going to start a gratitude journal, I had better find a cute notebook first!
About the author
Kathryn Berg joined the Village Business Institute in September of 2014 as a trainer serving the VBI’s Employee Assistant Program client companies. Prior to joining the Village, Kathryn spent two years working in the human resources field, focusing during that time on recruitment, training, wellness and benefits administration. Kathryn provides training on a wide variety of topics and currently focuses subjects such as harassment prevention and drug-free workplace compliance. She graduated from Georgetown University in Washington, DC, with bachelor’s degrees in English and Psychology and a minor in French. Outside of her work at the Village, she spends her evenings and weekends as a competitive swim coach.