In the distant past the field of psychology was primarily concerned with the abnormal –with things that made us depressed, anxious, stressed, and even suicidal. Today a relatively new field, Positive Psychology, has flipped the coin and is investigating things like what makes us happy, fulfilled, and secure.
In the year 2000, two psychologists, R.A. Emmons and C.A. Crumpler, published Gratitude as a human strength: Appraising the evidence, in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. Their findings suggest that people who routinely give gratitude experience higher levels of well being, such as reduced stress, reduced anxiety and depression, and generally higher levels of satisfaction with their lives and social relationships.
Skeptics may claim that social psychology research lacks the scientific rigor of other disciplines and nothing conclusive can be drawn from studies such as these. Perhaps, but a simple application of the principles of old fashioned common sense might suggest otherwise.
Many of us have had the experience of performing some act of kindness, only to go unrecognized. On the other hand, we have also experienced even small expressions of gratitude, such as a wave of the hand from a driver we have let into traffic in front of us.
In the first case, the net effect of the lack of gratitude might be negative, making us less likely to do something positive for that same individual who failed to express gratitude in the future.
In the second case, that simple wave of the hand has a positive impact, making us more likely to perform the action again. Giving gratitude can make both the giver and the receiver feel positive and more likely to perform similar actions in the future.
Giving gratitude builds on itself. Perhaps you’ve have seen the television commercials for a major insurance company where someone observes a small act of kindness performed by an individual, followed by the observer performing a similar act. The positive cycle of small acts of kindness perpetuates itself
Some researchers suggest that giving gratitude emits a kind of psychic energy, eliciting positive responses from the receivers of the expression of gratitude. Cast aside the question of the validity of the research and common sense again indicates we respond more positively to people who thank us from time to time than we do to those who don’t.
Giving gratitude is a habit, and like any habit it must be practiced and developed. Positive psychologists have provided us with an exercise to begin the process of being grateful. It’s called the three things exercise, and here is how it works.
Before you retire at night, think back through your day and identify and write down three things that happened to you for which you are thankful. If there were other people involved in the three things, make sure you express your gratitude in some small way on the following day.
In the long term, it would seem to make sense the more you are willing to express gratitude for acts of kindness you receive, the more willing the people around you will be to continue to perform such acts. And the more acts of kindness you receive, the more you may be willing to give.
Researchers are still studying gratitude and its relationship to kindness and general states of satisfaction and well being. If you are waiting for a definitive scientific answer, why not conduct your own experiment instead of waiting around?
Start with the three things exercise, ensuring you express your gratitude to those who contribute to those three good things. Then sit back and evaluate the results you get. You might be pleasantly surprised!
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