I know that most  people focus on gratitude in early November but I’m a bit of a rebel. While I think calendar events that encourage self reflection are great, they should serve as reminders to get back on track instead of creating  finite pockets of contemplation on various aspects of our lives. No one would argue that we should save love and romance for Valentine’s Day so why should we regulate thanksgiving to the month of November? This week (just before the Christmas rush really sets in) seems like the perfect time  to practice the art of gratitude (which is expressing appreciation for what you have instead of focusing on your wants or needs).

My research unearthed several studies that were similar to one another both in format and outcome. In each of these studies, researchers instructed three groups of participants to  journal  about events or circumstances that had recently affected them. One group was told to focus their journal entries on events that they were grateful for, another on events that had displeased them, and the final (control) group was not given direction regarding the focus of their entries.

The studies found that people who practice gratitude (and this IS a practice, more about that tomorrow) enjoy a multitude of positive side effects in many aspects of their lives.

EMOTIONALLY, grateful people tend to experience higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, and optimism. They reported more satisfaction with their lives as a whole, and lower levels of depression and stress.  In fact one study showed that practicing gratitude can increase happiness levels by about 25% (even to the extent that “Spouses of the participants in the gratitude group reported that the participants appeared to have higher subjective well-being than did the spouses of the participants in the control group.”

Grateful people reported fewer HEALTH complaints, better energy, more regular exercise, more (refreshing) sleep and even a stronger immune system (according to Robert Emmons, Ph.D.,professor of psychology, and author of “Gratitude Works! A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity.”  Gratitude functions as “a psychological immune system that bulletproofs you in times of crisis,”)

Of course, being grateful also impacts our SOCIAL lives, leaving us feeling considerably more connected with others – which makes us more likely to help them with their emotional or personal problems.

And for those of us struggling to make ends meet, gratitude appears to help us make greater progress toward achieving personal goals (SUCCESS), for all of the reasons above and because people who practice gratitude tend to be more creative, bounce back from adversity more quickly, and have stronger relationships (which can be a plus when you want to move up the corporate ladder).

So, it looks like gratitude really can make you happier and healthier but what if you just aren’t a very grateful person? Does that mean you’re doomed to never reach the heights of the grateful? Research does suggest that your body strives to maintain a basic level of happiness at a predetermined point similar to the way it strives to maintain a  certain weight that feels natural, so when something bad happens to you, your happiness may drop for a while but will return to it’s natural ‘happiness set-point’. But deliberately practicing gratitude can raise your “happiness set-point”, allowing you to remain at a higher level of happiness regardless of outside circumstances. Check back tomorrow for a list of our favorite ways to increase your gratitude every day.