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Gratitude and wellness

A portrait photo of Pauline Vetuna

Life can be challenging. Everyone deals with challenges in their own way. But research has found being grateful can improve people's wellbeing. Thinking about things you are grateful for can have many benefits. It can make you feel more positive. It can also make you feel like you belong. I started writing down things that made me happy. I was training myself to be grateful. It helped to improve my mood. I became more sociable. I cared more about other people. I began to enjoy life again.

Posted by: Pauline Vetuna, on 27/04/11

couple in embrace sitting at cafe

Focusing your thoughts and attention on encouraging things

Life can be challenging. Everyone deals with challenges in their own way. But some studies suggest there is something you can do to improve your life. If practised habitually, it can improve your mood and even your health. The secret is that little thing your mother probably told you to practice when you were young. It is saying thank you. Being grateful. Gratitude.

Research

Psychologists Professor Robert Emmons and Professor Michael McCullough conducted some experiments in 2003. They wanted to find out whether or not being grateful improves a person's wellbeing. Participants were randomly placed in a gratitude group or other control groups.

The gratitude group were told to spend a few minutes to write a list of things they were grateful for. The control groups were asked to make lists of other life experiences. Their list might have included annoyances or neutral events.

Good results

Participants were asked to keep writing the lists regularly. In one study they had to do it weekly for 10 weeks. In other study it was daily over 13 days. Participants were also asked questions about their psychological wellbeing, social wellbeing and physical health.

Over the course of the study, the researchers discovered that the people in the gratitude group generally experienced:

Improved health

In one study, participants reported that they spent more time exercising and experienced fewer physical illness symptoms. These participants were also more likely to say they helped or offered emotional support to someone else.

The psychologists also did a study on people with a disability. Participants with neuromuscular diseases were recruited. The results were similar to previous studies. Those who practiced the gratitude exercise reported better moods. Participants in the gratitude group even reported better quality of sleep. Families and spouses of participants were also asked about their observations. They also noticed mood improvements.

Lost and angry

At the time I acquired my disability, I felt sad. I had to find a way to cope with my new circumstances. I felt lost and angry for a while. During my physical rehabilitation, relentless thoughts overwhelmed me. I knew I had to find a way out of my own mind maze to have better quality of life.

I decided to narrow my focus. I carried a notebook with me everywhere. I wrote down everything that I witnessed or experienced that made me happy. I also wrote down things that made other people happy. At first the list was small. Some of the items could also have been considered silly.

Practicing gratitude

Looking back, I can see what I was doing was practicing gratitude. I was consciously focusing my mind on positive things. It helped balance the negative thoughts that inevitably pop up when you are experiencing difficulties.

The more I did it, the easier it became. It started out as a dot-point exercise in a scrappy notebook. But it became a nightly, three page journaling love affair. My mood improved. My outlook improved. I became more sociable. I was more concerned about others. I was also more able to engage with the world around me. I was able to step outside of my own head for the first time in a long time. I began to enjoy life again.

Focusing your thoughts

It seems like such a simple, silly exercise. But habitually practicing gratitude enabled me to find my way out of a mind trap. Research suggests practicing gratitude is one way we can improve our personal experience of life. It's not about deluding yourself. It's also not about denying the existence of any problems. It's about focusing your thoughts and attention on encouraging things. It might help you to have better quality-of-life. It might also help to engage with the world in a more constructive and hopeful way.

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Readers comments (1)

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Posted by: Maureen Redmer, Wisconsin, U.S.A. 17/10/2012 at 03:27am

I am a Parish Nurse in Wisconsin, U.S.A. - I believe you call us Faith Community nurses. I was researching the topic of gratitude & its effect on wellness/health as a topic for a monthly article I write for my parish newsletter. By "coincidence" the site I clicked on was "Divine" - which I do see as "Divine" intervention - to read what your site had to say. It confirmed my premise that gratitude plays a large part in wellness and gave me research to back it up. Only as I was preparing to print the article did I realize that your site is in Victoria, AUSTRALIA - my Mum was born in Ipswich, QLD but raised in Melbourne! She died 15 yr ago but I suspect she had a chuckle at this one! I have kept a "Thank you" to God journal for many years, I write in it every night. My life, as man ypeoples' ,has been filled with ups and downs but my faith and "attitude of gratitude" have kept me grounded and grateful. I enjoy excellent health, though need to work on the exercise part. My husband is disabled from 2 diabetes- related strokes and I sent the article to him; I hope it will help him to make the connection between gratitude and improved wellness. Thank you for this site and your research. I will keep it and your readers/contributors in my prayers.

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