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Tales from Utah Valley: Cultivate gratitude, be happier

By Laura Giles - Special to the Daily Herald | Dec 4, 2021

Courtesy Averie Giles

November sunrises, visible from BYU's campus, are among the many things to be thankful for.

It is not joy that makes us grateful. It is gratitude that makes us joyful. Gratitude is the best attitude. Life is beautiful when you have a thankful heart. If you want to find happiness, find gratitude. When you love what you have, you have what you need.

These and many other  sayings about gratitude have been popping up, especially lately, now that it is officially the holiday season. They’re great to read, and may even give us hope when times are tough. But, are they true?

Well, yes, according to a lot of research surrounding feelings of gratitude and thankfulness. In fact, research shows a variety of benefits that occur when we focus on those things for which we are grateful. Some of these include better sleep quality, increased feelings of happiness, increased physical and psychological health, improved self-esteem, more hope for the future, improvements in friendships and other relationships, reduced blood pressure, help with recovery from substance misuse and even work-related benefits.

In an interesting research study described in Harvard Health Publishing and conducted by Dr. Robert A. Emmons and Dr. Michael E. McCullough, both psychologists, participants were asked to write a few sentences each week, focusing on certain topics.

One group wrote about things that they were grateful for that had happened that week. A second group wrote about the opposite – things that irritated or displeased them throughout the week. A third group wrote about events that had affected them in any way, either positively or negatively.

After ten weeks, it was found that those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. They also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on the negative things that had happened during the time period.

There are things we can do to cultivate feelings of gratitude. One easy one is to think of five things we are grateful for, first thing every morning and again right before going to bed. Many people write in a gratitude journal, similar to the group in the aforementioned study, adding to it every day, focusing on the positive events that happened that day. These journals are great because we can also go back and read about past blessings when we need a little pick-me-up. They can also serve as a personal history.

Writing thank-you notes is a great way to think about what we are grateful for, as well as thanking others for their kindnesses. These kindnesses don’t have to be major favors that take a lot of time. They could be simple. A note might read, “Thank you for always saying hello to me at work” or “Thank you for always making me laugh.” Make it a goal of sending at least one thank-you note every couple of weeks. The simple act of writing the note can be uplifting.

While meditating, doing yoga or even sitting at a red light in our cars, we can think about or count our blessings in life. Some experts say that this quiet, grateful thinking can calm us down and make us feel more at peace.

Reading about other people’s thankfulness can boost our spirits. During November, many people post on social media about what gives them gratitude. I appreciate the posts about being thankful for the simple things, such as sunny days, the mountains, blue skies, family, good books, churches, laughter, sunsets and friends. Reading these often helps me realize how much I also have to be grateful for. Even when times are hard, there is cause for gratitude.

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