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7 reasons saying thanks, having gratitude can change your life

By Stacey Singer
Cox Newspapers

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. Your mother was right.

There’s growing scientific evidence that expressing thanks isn’t just nice for the person on the receiving end, it’s fantastic for the person doing the thanking. It can actually permanently alter one’s sense of well-being, in big ways.

And what better time to try this out than during the holidays? Here are seven reasons why gratitude is important:

1. It’s a mood-booster. Social scientist Robert Emmons developed a 21-day program for increasing thankfulness in his book,“Gratitude Works! A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity.”

It involves keeping a gratitude journal, writing gratitude letters to kind people, and sharing those letters in a face-to-face meeting to express thanks.

People who went through the 21-day program said they felt more optimistic and more connected to others, and they described better moods.

2. It’s a relationship-strengthener. When couples kept gratitude journals, chronicling the things their partner did that they appreciated, there was a measurable positive change in their perception of their partner.

It was a change that lasted, in part because it translated to a greater willingness to talk through concerns, said Brigham Young University social scientist Nathaniel Lambert.

“It really transforms your perception of that person,” Lambert said.

But why? Lambert’s hypothesis: “We naturally have this scarcity mentality. When we write a gratitude journal or express gratitude, we transform our perception of reality from one of scarcity to one of abundance.”

3. It enables you to bounce back from life’s setbacks. Studies of women undergoing treatment for breast cancer and veterans who have suffered post-traumatic stress show that keeping gratitude journals helped them get through difficult times more quickly.

The term psychologists use is “resilience.” It means the ability to bounce back.

People who are more resilient take the worst that life has to throw at them without allowing themselves to be defined by their setback. Optimism, forgiveness and gratitude are all useful tools for building resilience.

4. It’s good for your grades. Higher measures of gratitude were significantly associated with better academic performance, greater interest in school and more involvement in extra-curricular activities, as well as lower chance of high-risk behaviors like drug use and sexual activity, in a recent Nova Southeastern University survey of African-American youth ages 12 to 14.

5. It’s a depression fighter. One study found that the simple act of writing down three things that made participants feel grateful was as effective at increasing a sense of well-being as spending an hour in therapy. Another study, at Massachusetts General Hospital, found that suicidal inpatients assigned to gratitude exercises showed significant therapeutic improvement.

6. It helps you achieve your goals. Study participants who kept gratitude lists over two months were more likely to report completion of key goals, Emmons, at University of California, Davis, found. “Grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress.”

7. It elevates your social standing. University of Miami psychology professor Michael McCullough found that participants who rated highest for gratitude also had the highest capacity for empathy and were rated as more generous and helpful by people in their social networks.

So share this. … You’re welcome.

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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

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