Week 4: Some Research on Gratitude and Why We Should Care

Happiness doesn’t create gratitude, gratitude creates happiness

The following video is a TED Talk given by Shawn Achor, a motivational speaker who teaches us that education, money,  job security, etc.  aren’t what create happiness.  He believes that 1) listing 3 things for which we’re grateful, 2) gratitude journaling, 3) exercise, 4) meditation, and 5) random acts of kindness are the prime movers toward happiness.  Enjoy this short clip and then we’ll get to some concretes about the research.

On Week one I told you Brother David sees two parts  or two phases to the process of gratitude:  gratefulness and thanksgiving.  Gratefulness he sees as those moments in which gratitude wells up in our hearts and we experience it first hand as if something were filling up within us, filling with joy, but we haven’t yet articulated it.   Gratefulness is like a vessel that is still inarticulate until it overflows; it is like the bowl of a fountain when it fills up, and it’s very quiet, and still, and then when it overflows, it starts to make noise, and it sparkles, and it ripples down.  When it makes noise, when gratefulness is articulated, then it becomes thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving , according to Brother David, comes to a point where the heart overflows and we sing, and we thank somebody and we write it down because we want to remember it forever.  When these two things happen (gratefulness and thanksgiving) that is Gratitude.  That’s when the real joy comes; the joy that transforms us.  It is articulating our gratefulness that brings the real joy.

As we review the current research on gratitude I think you will see that in most of the studies the participants are asked to write down in a gratitude journal something for which they are grateful.  In some other studies they are asked to either write a letter or call someone to whom they are grateful, and then in some other studies (not listed here) they are asked to do an act of kindness for someone that as you can see is often passed on by the receiver to another.  The point I want to make here is that it is that second part, the thanksgiving part, that Brother David mentions that really brings the joy that transforms us.

First let’s listen to Dr. Robert Emmons give a short summary of his findings:

What are the effects of gratitude on human health, happiness and well-being?

Dr. Emmons is undoubtedly the most prolific writer on gratitude.  His work is easily understand and very concrete.  Here are two books you might want to consider exploring in the future:  Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier and the new Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity.

From the Harvard Health Publication of 2011 here is a short summary of gratitude research:

Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have done much of the research on gratitude.  In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.  One group wrote about things they were grateful for that occurred during the week.  A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wore about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative).  After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives.  Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.  Emmons RA, et al. “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Feb. 2003): Vol. 84, No. 2, pp. 377–89.

Another leading researcher in this field, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people, each compared with a control assignment of writing about early memories. When their week’s assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores. This impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for a month.  Seligman MEP, et al. “Empirical Validation of Interventions,” American Psychologist (July–Aug. 2005): Vol. 60, No. 1, pp. 410–21.

Of course, studies such as this one cannot prove cause and effect. But most of the studies published on this topic support an association between gratitude and an individual’s well-being.

Other studies have looked at how gratitude can improve relationships. For example, a study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship. Lambert NM, et al. “Expressing Gratitude to a Partner Leads to More Relationship Maintenance Behavior,” Emotion (Feb. 2011): Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 52–60.

Managers who remember to say “thank you” to people who work for them may find that those employees feel motivated to work harder. Researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania randomly divided university fund-raisers into two groups. One group made phone calls to solicit alumni donations in the same way they always had. The second group — assigned to work on a different day — received a pep talk from the director of annual giving, who told the fund-raisers she was grateful for their efforts. During the following week, the university employees who heard her message of gratitude made 50% more fund-raising calls than those who did not.

There is so much research on gratitude over the past 20 years that it is almost impossible to keep up.  But clearly a picture is worth a thousand words so I share with you this graphic developed by Amit Amin.    The list of benefits on his graphic was compiled by aggregating the results of more than 40 research studies.  (Summary of these studies is found at both of these links:  The hard science is listed here:  http://happierhuman.com/the-science-of-gratitude/ )  A softer easier interpretation is listed here: http://happierhuman.com/benefits-of-gratitude/  Please take some time to go to the sites to get the detail.

 Why should you care about any of this research?  Because it shows you how important Gratitude really is.

My hope has been to convince you that an attitude of gratitude is not just something NICE and warm and cozy; it is something essential for your well being.  Gratitude is the memory of your heart and, if you don’t cultivate it, you will never remember the beauty of your life.  It would be sad if the prime things you remembered were the troubles and the heartaches but not the CORE beauty of who you are and the gift that others have been for you.  And unless you write down those memories you will forget them and never be able to cherish the joy that they can bring to an ordinary day.

My hope has been to convince you that gratitude can be the prime prayer of your life.  If you learn to stop, look and go as Brother David taught us in Lesson 1 we will have noticed the beauty around us and we will have the sense to utter our thank you from deep within our hearts.  Just the ability to stop, to slow down, to ponder, and to notice what great gifts encircle us each and every day would be a source of great comfort for us.  If we can even sit quietly and remember the goodness of our life and let it soak into our heart and then just breath our thank you to God; it would be more than enough.  All around us,  with all sorts of gifts and beauty and peace and quiet, God is simply saying to us “I love you” and the natural response to that awareness is simply to say “I love you too” — that is prayer.  Gratitude takes us there.  Breathing in God’s love and Breathing out our gratitude; that’s how God and each of us relate to one another.  It can bring great joy to us.

My hope has been to convince you that gratitude makes what you have enough.  If we can truly look at the gifts that encircle us we would want for nothing else.  And when we don’t take the time to look, our hearts get corroded with envy and jealousy and competition and greed.  If we take the time to notice, to really look, and to share our gratitude, our lives can be different, a joy will bubble up from within us.  Life won’t always be perfect but if we take the time to notice life as it comes each day we soon see that the good is there and that our God is good and has made us good, not just good but “VERY GOOD”.

This is how Dr. Robert A Emmons summarizes his views on gratitude:

This is how Brother David Steindl-Rast summarizes his views on gratitude?

This is how I might summarize my gratitude to you for participating in this pilot:

I am so grateful to you for participating in this gratitude course.  I have learned much and been affirmed beyond my wildest expectation.  May this journey of gratitude continue between us and may it take us into a another level where our hearts actually yearn for the gift of gratitude as we watch it transform our hearts.  A moment of gratitude makes a difference in attitude.  It is something we have to remind one another to practice so that our gratitude muscle gets stronger and stronger each day.

Words cannot express my gratitude for your support but I think I’ll ask St. Paul for some help by using his words from Philippians 1:3-7

I thank my God for you every time I think of you; and every time I pray for you all, I pray with joy because of the way in which you have helped me in the work of the gospel from the very first day until now. And so I am sure that God, who began this good work in you, will carry it on until it is finished on the Day of Christ Jesus. You are always in my heart! And so it is only right for me to feel as I do about you. For you have all shared with me in this privilege that God has given me.

I end where we began with a song by Karen Drucker on Gratitude:

Day 2 of week 4

Sr. Pat Wickenheiser sent me an email with these pictures which are truly kindness enfleshed.  You might want to look at them and just ponder the implication and where God might be asking you to stretch your heart:

Kindness and Gratitude enfleshed

Day 3 o fweek 4

Sit and ask yourself where you want to go with this gift of Gratitude that has opened before you.  Journal any ideas that come to you.  Ask yourself what you’re willing to commit to in order to make gratitude a habit that lasts a lifetime.

Day 4 of week 4

Ponder this Jan Phillips song and the messages that appear.  I suggest you listen to it first with your eyes closed and let the words seep into your heart and then open them the second time to absorb the messages from God that might be opening something within you.

Day 5 of week 4

What about spending some time getting to know Brother David?  He is absolutely amazing

Part I :  Documentary on Brother David

Part II: Documentary on Brother David

Part II: Documentary on Brother David

Day 6 of week 4

Sit still long enough to list some gifts that you have within your being for which you are grateful and perhaps ask how you might use those gifts to be a gift to someone else?

Day 7 of week 4

Consider emailing me your evaluation of the course answering these 5 questions: (my email address is jkeegan@osfphila.org)

  1. On a scale of 1 (least) to 10 (most)  how beneficial was this course for you?
  2. What was the most beneficial portion for you?
  3. What change could I make that might improve the course?
  4. If I had to charge for an online course like his, what do you think would be reasonable?
  5. What didn’t I ask that you want to tell me.

To keep you busy for the next year – here is a list of articles and videos that might interest you:

Website list on gratitude articles

 

 

 

 

 

15 Responses to Week 4: Some Research on Gratitude and Why We Should Care

  1. Cathy Weaver February 22, 2017 at 7:54 am #

    Thank you for the messages, the writing, the videos, the opportunity to pause and reflect on the blessings in my life.

    • Sr. Julia Keegan February 22, 2017 at 9:16 am #

      Thanks Cathy for your supporter and for helping to market the program as well.

  2. Patricia StClair February 22, 2017 at 11:26 am #

    Sister Julie, Thanks for this wonderful reflection on Gratitude.

    I have decided to go over the material for my Lenten Reflection this year!!

    • Sr. Julia Keegan February 22, 2017 at 11:29 am #

      Good idea — perhaps I should do the same thing now that it’s over I can simply sit and enjoy it.

  3. Dianne February 26, 2017 at 2:58 pm #

    Hello, What a lfe changing, wonderful 4 week opportunity this has been. I thought I understood what it was to be grateful. But now I realize the depth it can take me to in transforming my life, and that the process of knowing myself, others and God will be even greater and go on for the rest of my life. I look forward to starting the workshop over as I know each time there will be a deeper understanding that will provide more ah ha moments. My note book is full, but I have a new one to begin! There is no way to truely thank you for this opportunity, but here goes–thank you! Articulating my feeling of gratefulness truely does bring the experience full circle and becomes a complete life changing affirmation of thankfulness. Many blessings on all your journeys! Dianne

    • Sr. Julia Keegan February 26, 2017 at 3:02 pm #

      Thank you for your faithfulness in staying with the program. Your joy in it brings me joy.

  4. Victoria Iannotta February 27, 2017 at 4:35 pm #

    I’m not ashamed to admit that I am still on Week 2. The resources are so rich, I could spend a week on each video, poem and paragraph that you have included. I will continue with weeks 3 and 4 as part of my lenten practice and have adopted the routine of watching this video from week 2 every morning on my way to work. It really does put me in a better frame of mind as I start my day.

    https://vimeo.com/71544405

    Thank you for offering this to us. It is a gift that will keep on giving.
    Victoria

  5. Sharon Previtera February 28, 2017 at 7:02 pm #

    Sr. Julia, this past month was a wonderful journey! I, like many others already expressed, will revisit this at a slower pace. My desire to be more sensitive to the many gifts God gives me has been heightened. Two of the most important things I learned is how the class started: Gratitude is a memory of the heart and when we fill ourselves with gratitude our happiness increases. The remaining weeks fully supported that. This has been a true blessing and I thank you for allowing me to participate! I will send you my review as you requested to your email address in a day or two.

  6. Michele O'Brien March 1, 2017 at 10:36 am #

    Julie.
    What a wonderful treasure you are. Thank you all the material that you have provided.
    Mickey

  7. Sr. Patricia Wickenheiser March 5, 2017 at 3:31 pm #

    It has taken me some time to respond to your and that is not for LACK of GRATITUDE!
    I am VERY grateful for the course and have found myself practicing little gratitudes while I didn’t realize it until I started “reflecting”.
    Thank you so much!
    Pat

  8. Clare D'Auria OSF March 8, 2017 at 5:35 pm #

    I finally had time today to “finish” week 4, but certainly I am by no means finished with these profound reflections on gratitude. I had to write to thank you, Julie, so I am both grateful and I am expressing my gratefulness to you through this thanksgiving note. How generously you’ve shared yourself, your insights, and your own prayer, reading and reflection–you are yourself a witness to gratitude! So many of us have benefitted from and through your goodness. Peace to your gracious heart! And THANK YOU! Your sister, Clare

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