Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mama was RIGHT

My friend Mary Anne sent me the following article from the WSJ. (I loving using the initials WSJ because it makes it sound like I really am up to date with the Wall Street Journal...I'm not really, but I love it when other people read it and send me articles!) My mom, who is 82 today, always always told me to be grateful. She did not have all of this science behind her to back that attitude up, but ta da...mama was right! She, like everyone who's in their 80s, grew up in the depression. She, however, was raise on a farm in Oklahoma and really saw firsthand some of the devastating effects of depression and dustbowl life. She also spent 30 years married to my father. That was about 30 years too long. I love my dad but he was a terrible husband. So for mama to come through all of that and still cling to optimism and gratitude just amazes me. Happy Birthday mama.

Philosophers as far back as the ancient Greeks and Romans cited gratitude as an indispensable human virtue, but social scientists are just beginning to study how it develops and the effects it can have.

Giving thanks is good for our health. A growing body of research suggests that maintaining an attitude of gratitude can improve psychological, emotional, and physical well-being.

Adults who frequently feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not, according to studies conducted over the past decade. They’re also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy or alcoholics. They earn more money, sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly and have greater resistance to viral infections.

Research also finds similar results in kids and adolescents. They are less materialistic, get better grades, set higher goals, complain of fewer headaches and stomach aches, and feel more satisfied with their friends, families and schools than those who don’t.

Dr. Robert Emmonds, a professor of psychology at the University of California-Davis and a pioneer in gratitude research notes, “With the realization that one has benefitted comes the awareness of the need to reciprocate.” The research is part of the “positive psychology” movement, which focuses on developing strengths rather than alleviating disorders. Cultivating gratitude is also a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy, which holds that changing peoples’ thought patterns can dramatically affect their moods.

In the landmark study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2003 of more than 100 undergraduates, Dr. Emmonds and University of Miami psychologist Michael McCullough shows that counting blessings can actually make people feel better. Those who listed blessings each week had fewer health complaints, exercised more regularly and felt better about their lives than the other two groups who did not list blessings. Another of Dr. Emmond’s studies with a Dr. Froh with 221 sixth- and seventh graders yielded similar results.

Dr. Emmond concludes, “Gratitude is actually a demanding, complex emotion that requires (1) ‘self reflection, (2) the ability to admit that one is dependent upon the help of others, and (3) the humility to realize ones own limitation.’

Some exercises to help us be grateful:
1. Keep a Gratitude Journal – note three good things that happened today.
2. Find a Gratitude Accountability Buddy – swap gratitude lists with a friend.
3. Watch your language including your self talk – using disparaging words reinforces memories
4. Go on a gratitude visit – write a thank you letter to someone who has helped you. Read it to them.
One study: Fourth graders who took a “gratitude visit” felt better two months later.5. Savor good times – with photos, drawings, and scrapbooks.
6. Count your blessings – review events and people to be grateful for as you fall asleep.

Another powerful exercise: Imagine what life would be like without a major blessing – like a spouse, friend, child or job. In a 2008 study in the Journal of Personal Psychology researchers found that when college students wrote essays in which they “mentally subtracted” a positive event from their lives they were subsequently more grateful for it than students whose essays focused on the event. Even small boosts in positive emotions can make life more satisfying.

Beck., Melinda. “Thank You. No, Thank You,” Personal Journal, Wall Street Journal, Tuesday, November 23, 2010, D1 and D4.