The power of gratitude
In 2009 after our second round of IVF my wife became pregnant with twins. In the fourth month of pregnancy we went for the regular ultrasound to make sure everything was progressing well. Sadly we learnt that one of the boys was healthy but the other had a serious birth defect called Anencephaly. If he lived to full term then he would only be with us for a few hours at most. We were then referred to the High Risk Pregnancy Team at our hospital. We were assigned a Genetic Counselor who explained my sons condition and what our options were. We saw a Palliative Care Doctor (something you never expect to have to do when you are having a baby). We enrolled in the Birthing Centers Bereavement Program. (It never occurred to me that a birthing center would have one, but they do and they are very good._ My son Sam ended up living for 3 days in the end.
I adopted an attitude of gratitude early on in our journey. I was grateful that we knew in advance so we could prepare for it. I was grateful for the tremendous support we received from the medical staff, our family and friends. I was grateful for volunteer organizations such as Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep who sent a volunteer photographer to record our precious time together. I was grateful for the 3 days I got to spend with my wonderful son and that he passed away in his mother’s arms. My attitude made the whole experience as good as it possibly could be. Every day may not be good, but there is good in everyday.
The science of gratitude
There have been several studies conducted on the benefits of gratitude.
One study at the University of California Davis asked one group of people to write down things they were grateful for every week. They asked another group to write down what was hard about the week. The group that wrote down what they were grateful for exercised more often, had fewer ailments and were more optimistic about the future than the other group
Another study at the University of Pennsylvania found that people who wrote thank you letters felt happier for a whole month afterwards. The same study also found that writing down three positive things every day for a week boosted happiness for six months.
Researchers at Eastern Washington University found that grateful people have four primary characteristics. They:
- Feel a sense of abundance in their life,
- Acknowledge the contributions of others to their well-being
- Appreciate enjoy life’s small pleasures
- Recognize the importance of expressing gratitude.
Scientists studying positive psychology have also found that a one-time act of gratitude produces an immediate 10% increase in happiness and 35% reduction in depressive symptoms.
Making gratitude a habit
The tools used by psychologists in research studies are some of the best for boosting gratitude. They used gratitude journals and thank you notes. By writing down positive things that have happened to you and acknowledging the people who have helped you, you become better at recognizing the good in your life. Which in turn leads to your feeling more grateful.
There are a few ways you can make gratitude a habit.
- Make a rule that before anyone can get down from the dinner table at night that they must express at least one new thing they are grateful for.
- Write a reminder to write down three things you are grateful for in a journal after you brush your teeth at bedtime.
- Set a reminder on your phone to email yourself one thing you are grateful for and to send one email letting someone else know that you are thankful for their help at 8.00pm each night.
Learn more about how habits work.