Gratitude Everyday: It’s Not Just for Thanksgiving Anymore

It seems like hundreds of years in internet terms since my last blog post, though it’s only been a few months. Over that time, I had the opportunity to embrace many different Science of Happiness and Mindfulness practices… including new applications for gratitude, mindfulness based stress reduction, mindful self-compassion and resilience.. which I look forward to getting into in this blog. I am so grateful for being able to experience all of these opportunities, therefore, I shall start with Gratitude.

Grateful

Grateful

 

The Greater Good Gratitude Summit

Gratitude is the first stop on my list, for I believe it is the foundational element that can transform any given moment. Knowing how to cultivate and practice gratitude can not only improve your own individual well-being, but also the other well-beings in the world at large. Gratitude is contagious… and it is the gift that keeps on giving!

On June 7, 2014 The Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) hosted the first Greater Good Gratitude Summit as part of its three-year program to expand the science and practice of gratitude.  With funding from the John Templeton Foundation, millions of dollars went towards various research and public education initiatives. The Greater Good Gratitude Summit was a day to “help bridge the research-practice gap” featuring experts in the fields of gratitude research and spirituality, as well as professionals and practitioners from various aspects of life — to share their latest findings and gratitude applications with the world.  What I walked away with that day was that gratitude was alive and well in science, spiritual settings, workplaces, communities, schools, families and the laboratories of our lives.

Overview

Robert Emmons, a world renown researcher on Gratitude from the University of California, Davis, and expert at the GGSC, gave us a general overview of research findings on gratitude from studies conducted over the past 20 years. The bottom line is that science shows gratitude is good for us and in fact works, affecting the following:

  • increases emotional well-being,
  • improves social relationships,
  • decreases depression,
  • decreases blood pressure,
  • increases resiliency,
  • increases generosity (paying it forward), and
  • enables people to achieve more.

According to Emmons, gratitude has the power to heal, energize and change lives. “Gratitude is the secret to life; the key that opens all doors.”  He talked about the foundational stones of gratitude:

  1. looking for the good (joy)- with eyes wide open we can notice the good or gifts and remember them,
  2. receiving the good (grace)- taking it in — recognizing we are the recipient of the good/gift, and absorbing and savoring it; and
  3. giving back the good or gift (love)- being the benefactor and expressing gratitude.

Two panels of researchers also presented their projects, but first what came next was a spiritual conversation on gratitude.

Gratitude and Spirituality

Two leading spiritual teachers engaged in a conversation, allowing us all to hear their perspectives on the importance of gratitude in life.  Jack Kornfield, a famous Buddhist psychologist, and Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Catholic Benedictine monk, conversed on the spirit of gratitude, stating that gratitude breathes confidence in life itself and awakens compassion. As it grows it gives rise to joy. Gratitude makes us fearless.

Brother David talked of recently traveling 12,000 miles to participate in 150 lectures. He said you can find blessings and love even in difficulty. Gratitude brings the spirit of well-being into difficulty. One of the pearls I gleaned from Brother David is: be grateful for opportunities in the moment; trust life, don’t struggle against fear; be courageous and embrace fear, and see what emerges– a new spirit.

Brother David’s website, www.gratefulness.org, is a wonderful resource on this topic where you can find information and support for the practice of grateful living.

More Research

Various researchers talked about The Gratitude Effect, looking at the physical, psychological and social benefits of gratitude. Take a look at the agenda and speaker biographies from that day to read the various aspects of gratitude that researchers are studying. Highlights from some of the researchers include:

  • Christina Karns, Ph.D., University of Oregon: Looked at the connection between gratitude, cognitive control and reward systems in the brain. Gratitude propels us to give back; Gratitude and altruism are sisters. The path to life satisfaction comes through giving through gratitude.
  • Wendy Mendes, Ph.D., University of California, San Francisco: looked at how gratitude affects well-being and health, studying various pathways both behavioral and on a neuro-peptide level. How did giving and receiving kindness affect the body and health? Her initial findings: higher levels of gratitude are associated with higher levels of well-being, improved socially connectedness, increase in sleep quality, and lower blood pressure at rest and reactivity.
  • Jeff Huffman, Director of the Cardiac psychiatry Research program at Massachusetts General Hospital and Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard looked at Gratitude, Mental Health and Disease. Among other things, he found gratitude exercises were more effective at dealing with suicidal thoughts than other exercises.
  • Philip Watkins, Ph.D., with Eastern Washington University looked at the Cognitive and Social Benefits of Gratitude, asking how gratitude helps us live well. He found gratitude enhances well-being, influences us to include others, enhances our desire to commune, and also make us more likely to help others. Bottom line: Gratitude makes us nicer.

Barriers to Gratitude

Tom Gilovich, Ph.D., from Cornell University discussed barriers to gratitude, and specifically two enemies:

  1. Headwinds/tailwinds– where we notice the bad things holding us back instead of the good things propelling us forward; and
  2. Adaptation– where we adapt to both bad things, and good things as well.  When we adapt to good things, we start taking them for granted.

He talked about the Power of adaptation — and the fact that we are happier with purchases of experiences over possessions, for we are less likely to adapt to experiences. He recommends overcoming headwinds by cultivating gratitude which is what Robert Emmons talked about in the beginning of the conference with gratitude’s foundational stones.

Gratitude at Schools

A tutoring program at an elementary school in Oakland, Boost! West Oakland, presented on cultivating gratitude in elementary school students. They specifically start tutoring sessions with a gratitude journal, and recording three good things once a week. This intervention made an impact on the students and the tutors alike as we heard from representatives of both groups.

Researcher and author, Giacomo Bono, Ph.D., presented strategies on how to cultivate gratitude in schools. He questioned can modeling grateful behavior result in grateful kids?  He studied children ages 5-11 years old, and teens as well. He found appreciation less than generosity. Bottom line: We need to teach kids about awareness of blessings, their personal value, the benefactor’s cost and intentions. We can also teach benefit appraisals to strengthen grateful feelings (appreciate and thank others) and positive affect. Additionally, encouraging empathy and thoughtfulness with friends is important as well. Practicing kindness (especially in boys), and using strengths to contribute to community can also help cultivate gratitude. His study found girls are more grateful than boys, however, gratefulness in boys decreased delinquency behavior. Longitudinally, he found that with gratitude the following increased: hope, subjective well-being, meaning in life and pro-social behavior. Moreover, depression decreased.

Anthony Chavez, grandson of Cesar Chavez- Labor Leader, shared his beliefs that, “The end of all education should be the service of others.”

Gratitude at Home

Andrea Hussong, Ph.D., from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill talked about raising grateful children. Start with object awareness and meaning making– attributions, and cost to the benefactor. When kids say “Thank you”, they may just be showing good manners, not making meaning about gifts they receive. Parents need to spend more time with kids to help them understand how to make meaning.

Sara Algoe, Ph.D., from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill presented her study on Gratitude and Relationships. Gratitude helps bind us with other people in our lives. Other people feel valued when they receive gratitude. Relationship satisfaction declines over time, falling into adaptation. We can prevent adaptation in relationships with everyday gratitude: notice partner’s action in everyday little things, don’t forget to show it, and be genuine (say it like you mean it). Everyday gratitude combats adaptation and promotes growth.

 

Gratitude at Work

Chris Murchison, Vice-President of Staff Development at HopeLab talked about ways to cultivate gratitude in the workplace by making the soil more rich and enlightening. He talked about recognizing stages of progress, offering that supervisors can incorporate small practices such as: thank you cards with organizations values printed on them which can show the alignment of organization and employee values. As another practice, instead of annual reviews, Murchison suggests to conduct annual “conversations” with reflection questions about joy at work, what employees are proud of, and ask for feedback on improvements for all employees and management. During a project debrief, managers can take a moment to pause and appreciate milestones, processes and/or each project member.

Peter Jin Hong with Google talked about virality, and how gratefulness allows us to connect.  He spoke of the Google program “One Today” that is a conduit for the public to donate $1 each day to causes and nonprofits that he or she selects. “It’s a community of generous people like you doing one good deed a day.” Once donors give, they receive a “Thank you” day one, day two, and six weeks later with an impact report, showing how one small action can make a difference. Many that donate to One Today do so again and again, showing how another small action can change behaviors.

Nipun Mehta, Chief Inspiration Officer and Founder of ServiceSpace.org talked about one of their social service programs, KarmaKtichen, where gratitude is generative. From their website:

“Karma Kitchen is an experiment in generosity in the form of a pay-it-forward restaurant — one where there are no prices on the menu, where everyone from the waiter to the dishwasher is a volunteer, and the check at the end of your meal reads $0.00. By serving meals in the spirit of a gift, and inviting guests to contribute from the heart –not for their own meal, but for those who come after, it creates a chain of generosity that keeps on giving.”

Mehta proposed that gratitude creates a state of stillness, which then breeds action. This very inspiring speaker talked about Gandhi 3.0: where the original Gandhi worked to share knowledge one to many; Mehta works to share knowledge many to many– as a network based on gratitude. The bottom line in ServiceSpace is “you are enough=we are enough.” (Interestingly, the Dalai Lama awarded Nipun Mehta  as an “Unsung Hero of Compassion” earlier this year, which he received on behalf of ServiceSpace.)

 

Gratitude and Art

Throughout the day, artistic presentations of gratitude were heard in poetry by Dennis Kim and in the Voices from StoryCorps, as well as seen in the visual art by Terri Friedman and students at the California College for the Arts. All forms of the art were very touching and real. Dennis’ poetry was moving as he spoke of his gratitude for words. StoryCorps stories (videos) showed the connection between two people, often generational, and the gratefulness that ensues.

 

Conclusion

The GGSC imparted so much wisdom throughout the day regarding Gratitude. I’m sure I’ve left out some speakers, unintentionally. It was a full day of information and idea sharing– that can make a difference for all once put into practice. They ended the day with the ServiceSpace presentation– and I can see why they did… KarmaKitchen and many of the ServiceSpace projects convey the essence of gratitude. And in twisting the words of JFK, with Gratitude in mind, do not ask “What can the world give me?” Instead ask “what can I give back to the world?” All it takes is some kindness and a little bit of gratefulness! What will you do today with the gifts you have been given (internally, that is)?



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