The Science of Gratitude

Dave Munger of the blog, Cognitive Daily, has an interesting post today about a recent study that seems to show that taking time to "count your blessings" has positive effects on our mental health:

Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough figured it would be worthwhile to explore this notion. Their method of study was both ingenious and simple: they would ask 201 students in a health psychology class to respond to a weekly questionnaire. Everyone rated their well-being, was tested on a measure of gratefulness, and reported on their physical health and level of exercise. The key to the study was a division into three groups. The first group listed five things they were grateful for each week. The second group listed five hassles or irritants from the past week. The final group simply wrote down five "events or circumstances" from the past week. This continued for ten weeks.

. . .

As you might expect, the students in the gratefulness group scored significantly higher than the hassles group on the gratefulness measure. But they also were more positive about the upcoming week and their life as a whole. They were even healthier than both the hassles and events groups, and they reported significantly more hours of exercise (4.35) than the hassles group (3.01). On the more rigorous measure of positive affect, which assesses many different dimensions of positive emotion, there was, however, no significant difference between the groups.

Emmons and McCullough suspected the reason positive affect differences weren't observed was that the respondents only reflected on things they were grateful for once a week. So they repeated the study on two different groups: a new batch of 166 health psychology students, and 65 adults with neuromuscular diseases. This time participants completed their questionnaires daily for 13 days (students) or 21 days (NMD patients). In of these studies, a significant effect of positive affect was found: Just writing down the things you are grateful for each day appears to cause to improve your overall emotional outlook. In the NMD study, respondents in the gratitude group also reported getting significantly more sleep and feeling more refreshed when they woke up in the morning.

The researchers speculate that simply enumerating things you are grateful for might be a treatment for mild forms of depression. They certainly seem to have confirmed the worth of the "count your blessings" platitude, and this research may offer some insight into research showing that religious adherents tend to be happier than non-religious people. Perhaps simple gratitude is one of the keys to the success of religion.

read it all here.


Michael said…
I think there is an important lesson here.

When I wake up in the morning I do count my blessings. I am 65, and waking up well and without a terminal illness feels great. I also think about the comfortable little cottage and the nice town in which we live.

This feeling then persists all day.

Sometimes feeling really great makes me feel a little guilty. I cannot explain this, but then I remind myself that I believe God wants me to have a good time here. This relieves my trepidation about feeling joyful.

Each day is gift that allows us to be joyful and maybe be nice to someone.

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