04 Aug Four Ways Gratitude Helps You with Difficult Feelings
via The Greater Good by Elizabeth Hopper
Feeling grateful can bring us a variety of benefits, including better mental and physical health and improved relationships. We tend to think of gratitude as an emotion we experience when things are going well, one that is closely associated with well-being and contentment. But does it serve any purpose when life isn’t so rosy?
As researchers have investigated why feeling grateful brings such wide-ranging benefits, they’ve uncovered that gratitude isn’t just puppies and positive thinking. One reasonwhy gratitude is so powerful might be that it helps us manage difficult emotions more effectively: When we feel grateful, we might be better at coping with stressful, negative, and frustrating situations.
According to this research, gratitude doesn’t just make us feel good—it also has a useful function when life is hard. Grateful people tend to cope with stress in smarter ways and regulate their negative emotions more skillfully. Here are four ways gratitude can help you manage your emotions when you’re faced with challenges in life.
1. Grateful people cope with stress in healthy ways
When we’re under stress, there are a variety of possible ways we can cope—some healthier than others. Research suggests that gratitude may help us take advantage of the more useful ones.
In a 2007 study in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, psychologist Alex Wood and his colleagues asked 236 undergraduate students to report on how grateful they felt and how they generally coped with stressful events. The researchers found that more grateful people were more likely to take steps to actively deal with their problems or try to look for “silver linings” (a technique that psychologists call “positive reframing”) compared to less grateful people. Additionally, more grateful people were less likely to disengage (to stop trying to solve their problems) and to blame themselves for the problems in the first place.
Why did grateful people choose healthier styles of coping? One possibility is that gratitude essentially leads people to see the world through rose-colored glasses. Wood and his colleagues write, “This perception of the world as a hospitable place may likely lead to an increased willingness to deal actively with problems.” In other words, grateful people feel more optimistic about solving their problems successfully, so they’re less likely to avoid or disengage from them.
Another possible explanation, Wood and his colleagues suggest, is how positive emotions affect our mental state. According to Barbara Fredrickson’s “broaden-and-build” model, positive emotions like gratitude help us to think in more innovative and creative ways, which helps us build resources we can draw upon when things get difficult. If gratitude spurs creative thinking, that might be why we find it easier to put a positive spin on stressful or negative events. In fact, a 2009 survey study of 201 college students found that participants who were more grateful at the beginning of the study were more likely to use positive reframing to cope with stress over the following month.
2. Grateful people benefit from the support of others
Another healthy coping strategy that gratitude may promote is seeking out our support networks.
In the study by Wood and his colleagues, grateful people were also more likely than their less grateful counterparts to reach out to others in the midst of stress. And a 2019 study in the Journal of Positive Psychology by Nathan Deichert and his colleagues suggests that gratitude may help people benefit more from that social support when they receive it.
In this new study, participants journaled about gratitude or a neutral topic for five minutes. They then went through a stressful task (giving a speech), for which some participants received social support (positive feedback during the speech). The researchers found that participants’ stress levels were lowest if they received social support and had previously written about gratitude, suggesting that gratitude may amplify the benefits that we get from other people’s kindness.
Grateful people feel appreciative about previous times when others have helped them, Wood and his colleagues point out, and that may explain why they seek out support—they probably believe that others will help them again in the future. According to psychologist Sara Algoe’s theory, part of gratitude’s function is to help us identify people who will be supportive of us and strengthen our relationships with them. Gratitude seems to help us notice the people in our lives who are there to help us…
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#happiness #happy #gratitude #good