The grandpa of positive psychology

colorful socks

Guest article by Kristen Truempy

No, I am not talking about Mike or Marty. Gratitude is the grandpa of positive psychology: constantly re-telling the same old tales as we politely sit there, do the eye-rolls, and think, “I have heard this a million times.” Count your blessings, three good things, yadda yadda yadda.

Or how about the recurring Facebook challenges where people state what they are grateful for – and after about 10 days of this, people get gratitude overkill and it all dies down?

Haven’t we covered that enough? Isn’t it more important to delve into other, less-researched positive psychology topics? Hasn’t gratitude reached mainstream, mission accomplished?

First of all, it’s remarkable that 10 days or two weeks of Facebook gratitude peeve people off more than, say, 15 years of cat pictures. But wait: if people posted the same three cat pics for days, weeks, or years, surely nobody would care about them anymore? Repeating the same stereotypical reasons you are grateful (my family, my health) helps you tick off something from your to-do list; but in terms of raising your happiness, you might as well de-fluff your belly button if you can’t be bothered to put a little bit more effort and thought into the exercise.

That’s precisely the heart of the matter: reading the same stuff about gratitude gets boring. Reading about gratitude gets boring, period. Feeling authentic gratitude never does. When your heart is open, raw, and genuinely touched, it’s not possible to be bored.

Like so often in life, we need variety and a little bit of effort. Not too much effort though, I promise, because you can be grateful about almost everything. Look at your socks. No, really, take a break from reading this article and look at your socks.

Do you have any idea how many things had to happen so that you could walk into the store and buy socks? How, luckily, no great bug plague of biblical proportions descended on the cotton fields and ruined all the cotton? Somebody actually picked the cotton. Other people had to figure out the best way to clean it, store it, and transport it. Many years of science went into how to transform the fluffy stuff into cloth. Then they converted the cloth into the socks. On it goes; you get the picture.

Sure, all these people were doing their jobs. But if you think about it, your socks have seen more of the world than you might have and they’re an everyday miracle that keep your feet from smelling and blistering up. So much had to go right just so that you could wear a pair of socks.

And that’s not even touching on the real miracles: people with blue hair and a rat on their shoulder reminding us that maybe looks and conformity are not the only possible path. Our desire to become a better version of ourselves and do something about it, like reading this article right now. Or seeing the face of a loved one witnessing the New Year’s Eve fireworks.

If gratitude is boring to you, maybe add blue hair and a rat to it and see what happens. Be grateful for something you have never been grateful for before. Express your gratitude even if the little voice in your head says it’s weird or unnecessary. Take risks, go deeper, or just be a little crazy with your gratitude. That should take care of your boredom alright.

Photo by Flickr user Theen Moy

Kristin TruempyKristen Truempy accidentally discovered the strengths approach when she was 11 years old and captain of a girl’s soccer team. She used her skills of keen observation to discover each player’s talent, structured the practices accordingly, and a year later the team won the cup. In 2012, she had to admit to herself that this experience would not suffice to convince companies to pay her to set the strengths of their employees free, so she embarked on the adventure that is obtaining a Master of Science in Applied Positive Psychology (and recently passed). She can be found at http://strengthsphoenix.com/listen.

7 surprising scientific facts about gratitude

gratitude thank you

If conversation is lagging around the Thanksgiving dinner table and your relatives are threatening to tell embarrassing stories about you, why not break out some of these scientific facts about gratitude?

Gratitude is one of the most well-researched concepts in positive psychology, with countless studies looking at its benefits and how to maximize them. Keeping a gratitude journal, or “counting your blessings,” is one of the most-recommended happiness practices ever.

So what does the science have to say about gratitude, beyond the fact that it’s the best thing since apple pie and you should be doing it more? Here are some surprising facts about gratitude: 

1. Women are more grateful than men

A national survey on gratitude, which polled over 2,000 Americans, found that women tend to be more grateful than men. This confirms the findings from another study, which found that American men are particularly uncomfortable expressing gratitude (compared to women and compared to Germans). The Youth Gratitude Project also found that girls are more grateful than boys, suggesting that the difference starts early.

2. People are less likely to express gratitude at work than anywhere else

That same national survey found that work is the last place you’re likely to hear gratitude. Only 10% of people say thank you to their colleagues on any given day, and 60% of people never express gratitude at work.

3. Gratitude is good for your cholesterol

UC San Francisco professor Wendy Berry Mendes is investigating the health effects of gratitude, and her preliminary findings show that grateful people have higher good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol, as well as lower blood pressure. One of the reasons for this might be gratitude’s effect on stress.

4. Grateful people spend more time exercising

More grateful people – who see their health as a blessing or a gift – may take better care of themselves. In one study by professors Robert Emmons and Mike McCullough, people were asked to list five things they were grateful for once a week for 10 weeks. Among a host of other benefits, they spent more time exercising than a control group. 

5. Gratitude can improve your zzz’s

In another study, people were asked to keep a gratitude journal every day for two weeks. For people with neuromuscular disorders, this exercise improved sleep (among other benefits). They were able to fall asleep faster, sleep longer, and feel more refreshed in the morning. This led Emmons to conclude: “If you want to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep.”

6. Gratitude could help you achieve your goals

In one six-week study, people doing a gratitude exercise worked harder at their goals and made 20% more progress toward them. This might be because gratitude makes us more energetic.

7. You can overdo it

Despite all the benefits of gratitude, you can practice it too much. A study by UC Riverside’s Sonja Lyubomirsky asked people to journal five things they were grateful for weekly or three times a week for six weeks – and only the weekly journalers became more grateful. That doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t count your blessings every day, just that the average person shouldn’t. Gratitude can become a routine chore, so it’s important to find your ideal frequency and mix things up from time to time.

Photo by Flickr user Jen Collins

Year of Happy two linesWant to learn gratitude and 11 other happiness habits? Join us for The Year of Happy, a free online course starting January 1 to help you get happier in 2015. Explore the science of happiness and apply it to your own life, all in 2 hours a week. Find out more or sign up here!