In our daily lives, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but the gratefulness that makes us happy. Albert Clarke
Gratitude for what we have and the people who have made a difference in our lives has been shown to raise satisfaction with life. There are many ways that gratitude leads to increased happiness. One is that it limits the effects of social comparison. Looking at those who have it better then we do is a great source of dissatisfaction. Realizing what we have in our lives decreases this sense of deprivation. By paying attention to the good in our lives we can relive positive feelings, which can help counter negative feelings. Remembering those who have helped us builds our sense of connection and puts us in touch with the kindness of others. Taking the time to appreciate what we have and those who have been there for us prevents us from taking things for granted. Focusing on what we appreciate and value in our own lives helps us see our lives as half full rather then half empty.
There have been a number of studies on the effects gratitude can have on our lives. In one study, Martin Seligman Ph.D., author of numerous articles and books including Authentic Happiness and most recently Flourishing, gave people an assignment to write a gratitude letter. He then had his subjects present this letter to the person they wrote it to. What Dr. Seligman found was that the people who carried out this assignment showed an improvement of their mood even a month later. This is a very powerful effect for a one time activity. The New York Times Magazine chose Dr. Seligman's gratitude letter exercise as one of the Top 100 Ideas of 2003.
I have the pleasure of teaching a Positive Psychology class to doctoral students in the Antioch New England Clinical Psychology department. Every year I have my students write a gratitude letter. I'd like to share a message I received from one student of mine who did this exercise by writing a letter thanking an Uncle who had been important in his life.
I .. wanted to thank you for the inclusion of the gratitude letter. I chose to mail mine because I was worried about the recipient dying before I got to say it to him. Unfortunately, I was right and he died on December 3. When I went to the funeral, my cousins explained that he had them read it over and over to him. It was one of the last things that he heard in this world. Words cannot explain how much this has meant to me. Thank you.
Is there someone who has made a difference in your life, who you have not had the chance to thank yet? Here is your chance. Below are the instructions for the gratitude letter exercise. If you do this and want to share your experience, let me know.
Think of someone who has been kind to you and to whom you have not expressed your gratitude. Write a letter saying specifically why you appreciated them and how it has effected you. Arrange a meeting without telling them about the letter. Read them the letter and give them a copy.
Until next time,