The pursuit of happiness
What every recent study on gratitude seems to share is that in addition to the specific benefits each noted, thankful people tended to be happier and more satisfied with their lives. The participants in Dr. Emmons' study, for example, were more enthusiastic about their activities and more optimistic about the week that lay ahead.
The Associated Press reports coauthor Michael McCullough explaining, "When you are stopping and counting your blessings, you are sort of hijacking your emotional system" — resetting yourself to see things in a new light.
And this reset can be accomplished in simple ways. Kent State University researchers Steven Toepfer and Kathleen Walker researched the effect of writing grateful letters on the well-being of a group of young adult students.
The project required participants to write three letters over three weeks to someone in their lives for whom they were thankful. Remy Melina on the site LiveScience reports the instructions were specific: no pithy thank-you notes, no throwaways. They had to mean something for the writer and the recipient.
The study concluded that the letter-writers saw increases in their levels of gratitude over time-- but also in their levels of overall happiness. For its authors, the project revealed a clear connection between being grateful and being happy. Even more importantly, the happiness was increased through intentional action on the part of individuals.
What this means? "The volitional act of writing letters of gratitude supports previous research which demonstrated that individuals have the ability to direct positive change in their lives," said the authors. People can make themselves happier.
They can do it today, by giving thanks.
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