About a Year Ago…

A Precious Privilege

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I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought,
and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.

A quote by G.K. Chesterton I have personal proof of.

Gratefulness has a power to attract what I need and hope for; people from the past I lost but wanted to make contact with; money I needed arrived unexpectedly. With a grateful mind I sleep better; I am more productive; ALL my relationships are improved; life tastes better; I have more to look forward to. On and on to the point of near ad nauseam, beyond a doubt this has been proven to me in the last two years of writing here about gratitude every day.

Researchers in the field of gratitude, Psychologists Robert Emmons at the University of California at Davis, and Michael McCullough, at the University of Miami, have learned what I know without research: gratitude is really good for you.

In an experimental comparison Emmons and McCullough found people who take the time to keep a gratitude journal on a regular basis exercised more often, reported fewer physical issues, generally felt better about their lives, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who kept track of hassles or neutral life events. Another benefit found was participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to make progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based).

Other Research has turned up physiological benefits of gratitude. It has been found when we think about someone or something we really appreciate and experience the feeling that goes with the thought, the parasympathetic – calming-branch of the autonomic nervous system – is triggered. This pattern when repeated brings a protective effect to the heart. The electromagnetic heart patterns of volunteers tested become more coherent and ordered when they activated feelings of appreciation.

There is evidence that when we practice bringing attention to what we appreciate in our lives, more positive emotions emerge. In a sort of positive pyramid effect, the more I pause to appreciate and show caring and compassion, the more order and coherence I experience internally.

Thank goodness research on gratitude has now challenged the idea of a “set point” for happiness. It was previously accepted that just as our body has a set point for weight, each person probably had a genetically determined level of happiness. Once upon a time I bought into that and believed since I suffered from moderate depression at times, I was doomed to have a set point of lowered happiness. Research on gratitude now suggests that people can move their set point upward to some degree, enough to have a measurable effect on both their outlook and their health. This works. My altered for the better state of mind is proof.

Emmons and McCullough said the following to their research subjects:
Cultivate a sense of gratitude’’ means that you make an effort to think about the many things in your life, both large and small, that you have to be grateful about. These might include particular supportive relationships, sacrifices or contributions that others have made for you, facts about your life such as your advantages and opportunities, or even gratitude for life itself, and the world that we live in. In all of these cases you are identifying previously unappreciated aspects of your life, for which you can be thankful.

Over a hundred and fifty years ago Ralph Waldo Emerson knew this when he wrote, the invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.

A metaphor for my experience of focusing on gratitude is comparing it to exercise and physically work out. If I had spent an hour or more EVERY day for over a year and a half working out and getting exercise, I would be in the best physical condition of my life. The level of happiness I have and the belief I have in the future good that will come to me are at “body-builder” levels. Gratitude is the magic “supplement” that has made it so.

When you arise in the morning,
think of what a precious privilege
it is to be alive, to breathe, to think,
to enjoy, to love; then make that day count!
From “Life, the Truth and Being Free: by Steve Maraboli

RE-post from December 27, 2012