The wisdom of poets, philosophers, and common sense is often followed by scientific study. “Over the past two decades, studies have consistently found that people who practice gratitude report fewer symptoms of illness, including depression, more optimism and happiness, stronger relationships, more generous behavior, and many other benefits.” This is the declaration of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California Berkeley, of which I am a member.
The organization is focused on comparing anecdotal perspectives with actual verifiable studies. Choosing to think about what you are grateful for is beneficial to your health and sense of well-being even if you do not share your gratitude with others. Taking time to write down what you are grateful for helps both healthy people and those suffering mental and physical pain.
One of my clients who ran a large research and development organization received survey data saying that people thought he was always negative. When I said, “I’m sorry your people are so incompetent.” he reacted strongly, as I hoped he would, by telling me how his team is outstanding. I asked why his department did not see that view from him. In reality, he saw his people as doing 99% of things very well and 1% that he needed to point out and correct. The fallacy of the way he was projecting his viewpoint was obvious to him once in the light of day.
He resolved to correct the perception. With his morning coffee, he wrote down ten things his team was doing well. He committed to tell at least one person about every item on the list by the end of the day. He did that every day. The perception by his department was a dramatic positive shift. My client reported having much less stress and enjoying his job more than before. The truth was he did appreciate his team. He continued holding people accountable, in addition to showing appreciation. His focus on the negative had hurt his people and hurt him. Focusing on appreciation helped everyone.
On the scientific side, Professors Joel Wong and Joshua Brown doing brain research sciences at Indiana University found:
- Gratitude unshackles us from toxic emotions.
- Gratitude’s benefits take time.
- Gratitude has lasting effects on the brain.
They found the MRI brain scans differed for people who did things out of obligation compared to gratitude. People who are generally more grateful gave more money to a cause and they showed more positive brain activity in the area associated with learning and decision-making. This suggests that people who are more grateful are also more attentive.
Showing gratitude improves the lives of those you meet as well as improving your health and well-being.