Can you name three things that you’re grateful for today? There are some people who are challenged to identify at least one thing they’re grateful about. Unfortunately, life can be unpredictable and sometimes stressful that they lack gratitude. During the last few weeks of 2015, I felt this way due to some negative circumstances in my life like job dissatisfaction and financial problems that took their toll on my well-being, resulting in increased weight gain, stress, insomnia, and depression. A dear friend of mine engaged in a social experiment with her husband in 2015 where they created a gratitude jar. The couple wrote down one thing they were grateful for about their relationship, placed the item in the jar, and shared the results with each other on 31 December 2015. Inspired by their idea, I decided to conduct a similar exercise by creating a gratitude jar of daily items to be thankful for in my life for 2016.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines gratitude as “the state of being grateful; thankfulness.” It’s derived from the Latin root gratia, which means grace. Gratitude is often used to communicate one’s feelings to another person during social interactions when one party completes a favor for the other. It’s also been used as a cognitive-behavioral therapy exercise by some therapists to get their clients to manage their mental health issues like creating a gratitude list or writing a thank-you letter to self. Can cultivating gratitude by writing daily gratitude lists improve a person’s well-being? Emmons and McCullough (2003) tested this theory in a study with 192 undergraduate students participating in a 10-week study where the students recorded the following three items: 1) five things they were grateful for; 2) five hassles that occurred in their lives; and 3) five events that impacted their lives. The study’s findings showed the students developing an increase in their optimism and self-care practices. Other researchers have conducted various experiments over the year to measure the physiological and psychological benefits of gratitude upon the human body. Physiological benefits of cultivating gratitude have included, but are not limited to, the following results:
- Decrease in stress hormones like cortisol
- Decrease in blood pressure
- Increase in white blood cells to improve the body’s immune system
Psychological benefits of cultivating gratitude have included, but are not limited to the following results:
- Decrease in risk of major depression
- Increase in self-esteem
- Increase in mental resilience to aid in overcoming trauma
As mentioned above, I created a personal gratitude jar on 1 January 2016 to develop this positive feeling to address some negative circumstances affecting my health and well-being. Writing my daily gratitude lists was a struggle in the beginning trying to think about things I’m grateful for and also remembering to complete the task while dealing with depression and managing stress. The more I engaged in this activity, I started experiencing some of the psychological benefits previously mentioned like increased optimism and mental resilience. I also became more aware for the need to incorporate more self-care routine in my life so I could experience the physiological benefits. The one thing I’ve gained this year from this therapeutic exercise is a better understanding of appreciation. Some people associate gratitude with achieving major accomplishments in their lives and I’ve also been guilty of this oversight. I’m grateful and appreciative for recognizing simple things that bring me joy like waking up before sunrise and having a moment to meditate instead of complaining about not being able to fall back asleep; having a positive support system consisting of family and friends that I can lean on for encouragement; and learning to love a job that made me miserable until I was able to find a better one with a salary increase and career advancement.
Practicing gratitude can improve one’s well-being and attitude to manage life’s stressful moments. As of Monday, 22 August 2016, this is my 235th day of gratitude for this year. I haven’t looked back at my prior lists and don’t intend to do so until 31 December. Since 1 September 2016 will be here in ten days, I challenge you to start a gratitude jar for the remaining four months of the year. Try it, you’ll have nothing to lose but an attitude of gratitude to gain.
Emmons, R.A. & McCullough, M.E. (2003). “Counting Blessings versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 377-89.