The festive season is upon us and it is a time of giving, sharing, reflecting and gratitude. However, it can become a time of stress, rushing and forgetting the importance of wellbeing.
Gratitude is strongly linked to wellbeing. We all need to feel appreciated in order to be well and productive. There are ways to keep accountable for gratitude in order to monitor one’s own wellbeing using a range of activities, from keeping gratitude journals to practising grateful thinking, and staging gratitude interventions.
Robert A. Emmons from the University of California, Davis and Michael E. McCullough from the University of Miami conducted a research project in 2003, Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life where the effect of a grateful outlook on psychological and physical well-being was examined. The results suggested that a conscious focus on counting one’s blessings can have emotional and interpersonal benefits.
Keeping a gratitude journal can be an effective way of enhancing positive thought and wellbeing. Recording weekly entries can help you to pay attention to the good things in life and brings to the fore the stuff you might take for granted. Emmons & McCullough’s research revealed that those who kept gratitude journals reported fewer negative physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week, in comparison with people who wrote about their stresses or generic life events.
When keeping a gratitude journal, it’s crucial to read back over those entries to remind yourself of the good in your days and what you have to look forward to. Try to record moments that were surprising or unexpected to savour that surprise. Record the positive remarks people say about you. When you’re feeling unappreciated or undervalued by yourself or those around you, those records will remind you that you are valued, appreciated and important. Emmons & McCullough’s research revealed that participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to achieve or make progress toward their personal goals, be they academic, interpersonal or health-based.
Gratitude interventions can have a very positive impact on wellbeing. In the classroom, teachers who promote self-guided interventions with their students often see results in the increase of positive states of confidence, alertness, enthusiasm and energy. By using these interventions with young people students can then help each other by guiding gratitude interventions with their friends and improving the wellbeing of their peers. Spending time counting blessings by listing five annoyances or issues to be solved, followed by five or more things to be grateful for, can show a person there are things in life to look forward to and what to be appreciative of when the negative aspects start to overshadow the positive.
Helping people with a personal problem or being an emotional support to another can enhance gratitude, thus improving wellbeing. Not necessarily in a schadenfreude type of way, but in the way that, in sharing someone else’s positive experiences, one is more likely to remember their own, which they can then record in a gratitude journal to reflect on later.
“Children who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and their families,” said Froh, Sefick, & Emmons in their 2008 paper, Counting blessings in early adolescents: An experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being. Gratitude is a human strength, one which children are able to grasp, but adolescents can start to lose; therefore the importance of being reminded that there is plenty to be grateful for is imperative as children grow into adults.
“A class of students was asked to identify the Seven Wonders of the World. With some minor disagreement, the following received the most attention: Egypt's great pyramids, Taj Mahal, Grand Canyon, Panama Canal, Empire State Building, St. Peter's Basilica, and China's Great Wall. However, there was one student who did not complete the assignment in time. When her teacher approached her, she stated that she was having some difficulty because there was so much to be grateful for and she could not decide that easily. Upon further inquiry, the student maintained that the Seven Wonders of the World were: to see, to hear, to touch, to taste, to feel, to laugh, and to love” (from Froh, Sefick, & Emmons ‘ paper: C. Colligan, personal communication, February 27, 2006).
Continuing practice of maintaining gratitude for happy thoughts, moments, feedback, goals and possessions can enhance wellbeing and allow for positive thoughts making positive lives, particularly in this busy festive season.