We are constantly receiving bad news about violence, pollution, sadness and terror, and it is easy to become drawn into negative thoughts. But a new science is proving that negative attitudes are bad for you and that the best cure for negativity is gratitude. Dr. Robert A. Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, has even named this new knowledge: “Grateful-ology: The Science and Research of Gratitude”. Other scientists and psychologists refer to Dr. Emmons as a leading scholar in “positive psychology”. So, what is “grateful-ology” and how did researchers arrive at their discovery?
In one of the first studies done by Dr. Emmons, participants in one group were asked to keep a weekly journal of five things they were grateful for. Participants in another group were asked to keep a weekly journal of five things which had caused them displeasure. There was a third group which we asked to simply keep track of ten things which had affected them each week but were not instructed as to whether these things were to be positive or negative. At the end of the ten week experiment, Dr. Emmons and his researchers found:
The participants in the gratitude group were happier with their lives and had become far more optimistic than participants in either of the other two groups
The gratitude group reported fewer health complaints and had fewer physical illness than the other two groups
In a second study, Dr. Emmons asked his group to write daily about things for which they were grateful. Results showed that people were even more content with their lives and more grateful for what they had. But interestingly, another fact became evident through this second study: participants were offering more emotional support and help to others. In fact, the happier and more grateful people were, the more they tended to reach out to others to help.
Of course, this doesn`t mean that life will not hand you blows and setbacks, or that we won`t continue to hear about sad events all over the world. However, what these studies show is that by being grateful for the good things in our lives and appreciative of the things which bring us pleasure, the negative things in our lives will be easier to deal with because we won`t dwell on them.
In yet another study, this one at Duke University Medical Centre, the progress of 3000 patients with heart problems was followed. Those who expressed gratitude that their condition was not as severe as others in the hospital and who acknowledged how appreciative they were for the care they received, were much more likely to be further along in their recovery one year later than those who were suffered with self-pity and had a `why me` attitude. A study of heart transplant patients at the University of Pittsburgh found the same result after one year.
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic conducted a study and found evidence that optimists live longer lives than pessimists. In fact, they found that optimists had a fifty percent lower risk of premature death!
I think it would be interesting to take on the challenge of becoming more grateful for the good things in our lives, starting by Dr. Emmons` suggestion of keeping a daily journal of things we are grateful for over a six-week period.
Gratitude can become a habit and a way of viewing the world and just might be our best health remedy.