Wednesday, March 29, 2017

What I Learned From Keeping a Gratitude Journal (part 1)

by Jeff Vrabel
 



Confession: Before this assignment, I’d never even considered keeping a gratitude journal. I imagined parchment and elf-crystals and perfumed writing chambers where the air is 75 percent mulberry incense, and purple-haired millennials talk an awful lot about chakras.
Gratitude is also an example of what humans call feelings, and I have spent an awful lot of energy trying to avoid those. But as it happens, what makes me a lousy human also leaves me pretty well-qualified to gauge the effects of a gratitude journal—a tally of thanks I kept throughout December to see whether the gurus and positive psychologists are right about its uplifting power.
Science has fallen over itself proving how gratitude makes you not only a warmer person but a healthier one. “Previous research has linked gratitude to improved mental health, lower levels of anxiety and improved sleep,” says Blaire Morgan, Ph.D., a research fellow at the University of Birmingham in England. “Our own research has demonstrated a strong link between gratitude and three different measures of well-being: satisfaction with life, subjective happiness and positive affect.”
The idea of the gratitude journal, as with most of your leading forms of mindful personal development (meditation, controlled breathing, ringing the Salvation Army bell, doing yoga in a 105-degree closet), is theoretically wonderful, a warmly resonant concept designed to blast rays of sunshine into your dull cement world of commutes and credit card APRs and Facebook. Gratitude journals are the opposite of work-intensive, requiring only a pen, pad and a handful of quiet moments. You can keep them anywhere. They’re meant to be mentally refreshing, spiritually invigorating, and free of expectation or reciprocation—a crystal-blue example of pure instinctual human goodwill.

Gratitude fosters upstream reciprocity, which you may know by its street name: paying it forward.

A 2006 Northwestern University study by Monica Bartlett and David DeSteno found that gratitude fosters upstream reciprocity, which you may know by its street name: paying it forward. The grateful among us enjoy higher self-esteem and are generally in better moods. They’re more empathetic and less inclined to vengeful retaliation. They experience fewer physical aches and pains, partly because—being in positive frames of mind already—they exercise and visit doctors regularly. In a famous example, renowned gratitude expert Martin E. Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania experimented with a number of positive psychology interventions; the most successful involved participants who wrote and hand-delivered notes of gratitude to someone who had influenced their lives.
The best part about being thankful: You can literally start reaping these benefits before you even shake yourself out of bed. “Begin the day with gratitude,” says Gregory Jantz, Ph.D., founder of The Center, A Place of Hope and a personal development author. “Find simple things: I have a roof over my head, I have work. Start small.” The effect, Jantz says, is aggregate. “As I become more grateful, I become more optimistic, more humble, more teachable. I begin to see things I wouldn’t normally see. I become more positive.”
So with those benefits in mind, I began writing my first gratitude journal entry of the month.
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