A grateful mind is a great mind which eventually attracts to itself great things. — Plato
There is no question that Americans seek a magic bullet to achieve wellness—a single thing that will make all the difference. Rarely do I offer such magical bullets, but I can give you something that can make all the difference.
Achieving wellness requires a beautifully constructed web of interrelated factors. Each day our thoughts, actions, practices and habits weave together the canvas upon which our lives are painted. This undeniable fact allows us great opportunity to almost daily be able to create a life filled with a greater level of passion and interest, and a higher level of well-being.
The art of grace
Some time ago I read an inspiring story about Stan “The Man” Musial, one of the most beloved baseball heroes of all time. His life is a beautiful expression of how living in grace enriches the lives of those around you as well as your own. Also dubbed the “Perfect Knight,” Stan Musial embraced the importance of being a role model, and lived his life accordingly. His life is a testament to the idea that a sincere appreciation for what you have in life creates a lifetime of not only happiness, but also the love and admiration of those you touch by your graciousness.
This story got me thinking of the people in my life who were “long lived” (aka old) whom I respected, admired and loved. I realized that they all shared this common feature of living with grace—freely acknowledging people with appreciation and thanks. That realization made me ask an important question: “I wonder if there has been any research on the effect of gratitude on people’s lives?”
What I soon discovered is that there is a large body of recent scientific work showing that people who are more grateful have higher levels of well-being and are happier, less depressed, less stressed and more satisfied with their lives and social relationships. In fact, researchers from the School of Psychology at the University of Manchester in England have shown that gratitude appears to be the strongest link to health (and happiness) of any character trait.
OK, I know what you are thinking: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Maybe healthier people have more things to be grateful for, and that is the reason for the association. For several reasons, I don’t think that is the case.
Perhaps the best evidence that feelings of gratitude promote health are studies in which gratitude exercises are used as an intervention. One of the leading experts in the importance of gratitude as a therapy is Martin Seligman, PhD, former president of the American Psychology Association and one of the major thought leaders in the discipline of positive psychology.
In a 2005 review article published in the journal American Psychology, Seligman described a study in which participants were randomly assigned to one of six therapeutic interventions designed to improve their overall quality of life. Of these six interventions, it was found that the biggest short-term effects came from a “gratitude visit” in which participants wrote and delivered a letter of appreciation to someone in their life. This simple gesture caused a significant rise in happiness scores and a significant fall in depression scores. This positive effect lasted up to one month after the visit.
In other studies, the act of keeping “gratitude journals,” in which participants wrote down three things they were grateful for every day, had even longer-lasting effects on happiness scores. The greatest benefits usually occurred around six months after journal keeping began. Similar practices have shown comparable benefits.
While many may argue that the need to feel loved is the greatest emotional need we have, I believe there is no greater emotional need than appreciation. The funny thing is that the things we really want in life are usually best obtained by giving more. In other words, if you want to feel more appreciation in your life, begin with expressing more appreciation.
I would like you to challenge yourself with the following assignment: Create a gratitude visit in your life. We all have had people touch our lives in profound ways. Pick a worthy recipient and figure out a way to make a special acknowledgment, and watch the magic unfold. The more special you make it for the recipient, the more special it will be for you.
That is Assignment A, but I want you to also do Assignment B and C. For Assignment B, I want you to be more aware in your daily life of opportunities to acknowledge people. Seize chances to say thank you. And lastly, Assignment C is simply putting yourself to sleep by giving thanks in your mind and heart for at least three wonderful things you have in your life.
If you make these three assignments a daily habit, the impact on your life, your relationships and your health can be absolutely incredible. Gratitude is the most powerful magic bullet for a better life that I know. It’s simple, safe, has no side effects and yet is still very powerful medicine.