25 Jul Saying Thanks for Happiness
Will Saying Thanks Make Us Happier?
By Catherine Price, Greater Good. Posted July 24, 2007.
New research suggests gratitude is a key to health and happiness, but one writer wanted to test that research for herself.
I have a confession: When I go to a bookstore, I like hanging out in the self-help section. I don’t know if it’s because I think I’ll find a book that will solve all my problems, or if seeing all the books on problems I don’t have makes me feel better about myself. But whatever it is, I keep going back.
On recent visits, I’ve noticed a trend: The market has been glutted by books promising the secrets to happiness. That might not seem new (isn’t happiness the point of the entire section?), but these aren’t touchy-feely self-help titles-they’re books by scientific researchers, who claim to offer prescriptions based on rigorous empirical research. It’s all part of the “positive psychology” movement that has spilled out of academic journals and into best-selling books, popular magazine articles, and even school curricula.
As I glanced through a few of these titles, two things quickly became clear. First, positive psychologists claim you can create your own happiness. Conventional wisdom has long held that each of us is simply born with a happiness ‘set point” (meaning that some people are constitutionally more likely to be happy than others). That’s partially true-but according to positive psychologists Sonja Lyubomirsky and Ken Sheldon, research now suggests that up to 40 percent of our happiness might stem from intentional activities in which we choose to engage.
Second, in trying to explain which activities might actually help us cultivate happiness, positive psychology keeps returning to the same concept: gratitude. In study after study, researchers have found that if people actively try to become more grateful in their everyday lives, they’re likely to become happier — and healthier — as well.
So how do positive psychologists recommend that you increase your level of gratitude-and, therefore, happiness? They endorse several research-tested exercises. These include keeping a “gratitude journal,” where you record a running list of things for which you’re grateful; making a conscious effort to ‘savor” all the beauty and pleasures in your daily life; and writing a “gratitude letter” to some important person in your life who you’ve never properly thanked.
These gratitude exercises all sounded pleasant enough, but would they work for me? While I’m not currently depressed, I’m very aware that depression runs in my family: I’m the only person-including the dog-who has not yet been on Prozac. So I decided to indulge in all three of these exercises over a six-week period, risking the possibility that I might become an insufferably happy and cheerful person.
I emailed University of Miami psychologist Michael McCullough, a leading gratitude researcher, to ask what he thought I could expect as a result of my gratitude overdose.
“If you’re not experiencing more happiness and satisfaction in your life after this six-week gratitude infusion,” he wrote back, “I’ll eat my hat!”
My first step was to get a gratitude journal. Luckily, a year earlier my recently retired father had stumbled across a bookstore that sold “quotable journals”-blank books with inspiring quotes on their covers. My father, always a sucker for inspiration, sent me seven of them. I settled on one with a cover that said, in all caps, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” Given my experiment in manufactured happiness, this seemed appropriate.
Journal at my side, I decided to start by taking a happiness inventory (available, along with a bunch of other quizzes, at authentichappiness.org, the website run by positive psychology guru Martin Seligman). I scored a 3.58 out of 5, putting myself ahead of 77 percent of participants, but still leaving plenty of room for improvement-as evidenced by my first journal entry.
To read the rest of this happiness story – click here.