Thank You, Muchas Gracias, Danke Shon, Domo Arigato, Merci Beaucoup, Koszi, Gratzie

(sorry in advance for the length of this post– was very excited by the topic!)

What a great week this has been for sending kindness and positive energy into the universe. I want to send a shout out to OwningKristina.com and my sister Kris for featuring BeingMerry in her Pay it Forward Friday series. Her blog about dreaming, believing, and becoming focuses on accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative. (Yes, I guess it runs in the family)! I also want to thank those readers who left comments. Thank you Alyssa for mentioning how you cannot wait to see where this takes me.  I can say with confidence, it is taking me in the direction of my next career/life endeavor into wellness and specifically positive psychology.

BeingMerry = BeingGrateful

At this moment life is taking me into the depths of gratitude.  After looking at the list of kind acts I did on my birthday, I noticed gratitude played a big part. From thanking people for their “being” and writing letters expressing their importance to me, to thanking the firefighters for their ”doing” and receiving thank you from the homeless – I realize how those two little words can have a tremendous effect on the receiver AND the giver as well.  Not only does it promote a kinder, more positive world—it promotes a kinder and more positive giver—who ends up being happier, more energetic and  able to give back even more.

A Thanks, Is a Thanks, Is a Thanks….

Though the words might look different depending on the language, the words “Thank You” convey same meaning—one of gratitude or an appreciation of a benefit. There’s something about focusing on gratefulness that can make a difference psychology and well as physiologically. I did a little bit of research on “gratitude” and found quite a lot. I wanted to understand the scientific explanation for the benefits of gratitude. Here is what I found.

Gratitude = More Happiness

Professor Robert Emmons in the Department of Psychology at the University of California at Davis is researching the concept of gratitude and has written many books on the subject (one is Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier). In his studies, he found that being grateful on a regular basis can increase overall feelings of happiness by 25%.  In one study, the subjects who focused on grateful acts instead of negative or neutral acts were more optimistic, energetic and felt better about their lives overall. They also felt stronger about encountering difficulties, which did not ruffle their feathers as much.

Gratitude = Better Health

After reading about Emmons’ results, what came to my mind was serotonin, the neurotransmitter that our brain makes naturally, which is also the medication that is used to treat depression, anxiety and host of other psychological disorders. It seemed to me that serotonin must have a role in gratitude on a physiological level– like how running releases endorphins into our system; giving thanks must release serotonin.  After doing a quick search on Google I found it does.

In their article, “Giving Thanks: the Effects of Joy and Gratitude on the Human Body,” Drs. Blair and Rita Justice describe how events in which we experience gratefulness are felt in the “same frontal regions of the brain that are activated by awe, wonder and transcendence. From these cortical and limbic structures come dopamine and serotonin, the chemicals for feeling good inside.” They continue to suggest that gratitude can be a total body experience for besides serotonin being released, our parasympathetic system kicks in as well, calming our hearts and body. This can have a positive consequence for heart rate variability, hypertension and more.

Science Recognizes the Effects of Gratitude

One final note from my research rounds is that the University of California at Berkeley, in conjunction with UC Davis, has launched a 3 year, $5.9 million project called “Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude.” Housed at the Greater Good Science Center in UC Berkeley, and working with Dr. Emmons, they have planned multiple research and public education initiatives with the focus on “expanding  the scientific database of gratitude, particularly in the key areas of human health, personal and relational well-being, and developmental science.“ Take a peek at their website, you will be inspired.

Practicing Acts of Gratitude

So now that we know it’s good for both the receiver and giver to be grateful, how do we put it into practice without having to do 45 RAOK a day?  We can send thank you notes, emails and letters to people who have made a difference in our personal lives or to the world at large. We can also mediate or pray focusing on gratefulness, because even just thinking grateful thoughts count—sending the serotonin response. In fact, Gretchen Rubin in her book, The Happiness Project, recommends turning complaints into grateful statements. (Do you really hate doing your chores at home, or meeting a deadline at work, or are you happy to have the responsibility of a home and a job?).

Grateful Journals

We can also start by keeping a Gratitude Journal. Author and reporter Deborah Norville’s book, Thank You Power: Making the Science of Gratitude Work for You, talks about Emmons and other’s studies, and offers a checklist for letters of gratitude and journals entries). She states not only writing thank you, but acknowledging the details of the act and why it was important to you will make it more meaningful, and bring you into the present.

Keeping a Gratitude Journal is something Oprah Winfrey does every day, after hearing the author of Simple Abundance, Sarah Ban Breathnach, recommend it on her show back in 1995. Their belief is the more you are thankful for, the more abundance (of love, money, and good things in general) will come to you.  All you need is a blank notebook or a blank screen, with which to fill words.

By the way, Oprah.com has an online gratitude journal that they post every Friday—reminding us of neat things going on in the world—of which to be grateful.

Begin Today, Be Thankful for This Day

So, what are we waiting for? I haphazardly started a Gratitude Journal a year or so ago—but have not been consistent with entries. Now that I know how good it is for everyone involved, I’m going to restart. I’ve given my kids blank journals and together we will start a new tradition. There is no time like the present—to reflect on the past and be thankful for the good in our lives, today.

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References:

Emmons, Robert. Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier. N.p. Mariner Books, 2008.

Justice, Blair and Justice, Rita. Giving Thanks: The Effects of Joy and Gratitude on the Human Body. Health Leader. University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, 2005. < http://www.uthealthleader.org/archive/mind_body_soul/2003/givingthanks-1124.html&gt;

Norville, Deborah. Thank You Power: Making the Science of Gratitude Work for You. N.p. Thomas Nelson, 2007.

Rubin, Gretchen. The Happiness Project. New York. Harper Collins, 2009.



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