Mental Health: Get Healthier, Give Thanks (cont.)

Who, then, has a high level of life satisfaction, if not the very poor or the very rich? The middle class do, according to Diener's findings -- particularly those who have risen from poverty. Moreover, he reports that the people of Ireland, a country boasting a "count your blessings" culture, report high levels of life satisfaction. As for a group of multimillionaires from the Forbes 400 list? They weren't much happier than the average suburbanite.

Cultivating Gratitude

Income level is by no means the only measure of satisfaction with one's lot in life. "There tends to be higher levels of optimism among people who have faced losses early in life, suggesting that adversity can promote personal growth over time," Aspinwall tells WebMD. But you don't have to wait for a tragedy to grow your feelings of gratitude. You can start today. Here's how:

  • Maintain a gratitude journal. Emmons' research showed that people who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercise more regularly, report fewer physical symptoms, feel better about their lives as a whole, and maintain greater optimism about the future.

  • Create a list of benefits in your life and ask yourself, "To what extent do I take these for granted?" Some people need such concrete visual reminders to maintain mindfulness of their gratitude, explains Emmons.

  • Talk to yourself in a creative, optimistic, and appreciate manner, suggests Sam Quick, PhD, of the University of Kentucky. This could entail simply reflecting on things for which you're grateful or, if you're facing a challenging situation, seeing how it can ultimately be beneficial. For instance, having to cope with particularly difficult people in your job or neighborhood can improve your patience and understanding.

  • Reframe a situation by looking at it with a different, more positive attitude, offers Quick. He provides this example: Rather than seeing his 6-year-old daughter as cranky, irritable, and troublesome, a father might reach the conclusion that the youngster is tired and needs rest.

Not convinced these simple gratitude-enhancing strategies can improve your overall health and well-being? "Try it out for yourself. What's the alternative? I think gratitude is the best approach to life," Emmons says.

Published Nov. 8, 2004.

SOURCES: Robert Emmons, PhD, psychology professor and researcher, University of California, Davis. Christopher Peterson, PhD, University of Michigan psychologist. Lisa Aspinwall, PhD, psychology professor, University of Utah. Edward Diener, PhD, psychology professor, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. Sam Quick, PhD, human development & family relations specialist, University of Kentucky.

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