The Healing Power of Gratitude
By Dr. David Roos, Dean of Students, Rocky Vista University, Southern Utah
What do you have in common with every other person reading this article? Other than the ability to read, another thing you have in common with everyone else is your desire to be happy. Very few of us wake up each morning and think, “What can I do today to make myself miserable?” Unfortunately, many people are miserable because they let “life happen” rather than taking specific steps to improve their odds.
We all make daily decisions, including what we think, which can lead us toward or away from happiness. We know money doesn’t buy happiness, although a lack of it isn’t good either. Fame, notoriety, or having good health also do not buy happiness; I know plenty of people with money and good health who are miserable. Meanwhile, my son who is currently fighting cancer and in a wheelchair is one of the happiest people I know. So what is the recipe for happiness? While that may be the subject for another article (or book), one of the main ingredients is gratitude. Life is funny that way. Sometimes the answers to some of life’s biggest questions can also be the simplest. To find out why gratitude is such a big deal, let’s briefly turn to science:
Many recent studies have found that people who consciously focus on gratitude experience greater emotional well-being and physical health than those who don’t. In comparison with control groups, those who cultivated a grateful outlook each day experienced the following results:
- They felt better about their lives as a whole.
- They experienced greater levels of joy and happiness.
- They got sick less often.
- They felt optimistic about the future.
- They had more energy, enthusiasm, and focus.
- They experienced heightened spirituality or had the ability to see something bigger than themselves.
And the list goes on. Who would have thought that the early Pilgrims may really have been on to something? If you stop and think about it, you can know intuitively that there is real power in gratitude.
Try this experiment. Think of one person who has had a positive impact on your life: a parent, sibling, teacher, or religious leader. Now close your eyes and imagine that you are giving them a hug and thanking them for all that they have done for you. How did it make you feel? Did you feel good inside? That’s it! That’s the power of gratitude. Now, how can you operationalize this to be a part of your daily routine? Here are a few ideas:
- Keep a gratitude journal. Every night, write down three to five things that you are grateful for and include positive experiences from the day. Elaborate on one of these ideas.
- Write thank you cards. We are all touched by countless people in our lives. Make it a goal to thank someone in writing each week.
- Say thank you often, particularly to those who serve you! In my own life, I now have many more people to thank as neighbors, friends, family members, and even complete strangers have rallied around my son.
- Think about what you are grateful for each morning. You will be surprised at how much better your day goes. If you believe in a higher power, express gratitude each day for your life, the good things in your life, and the help your are given when things are challenging.
Make a decision today to be more grateful. You can enrich others’ lives while also improving your own. As Albert Scheitzer wrote, “At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lit the flame within us.”