1. Gratitude as a Coping Mechanism

    April 14, 2014

    Gratitude as a Coping Mechanism

    Gratitude is a powerful feeling. It makes us appreciate all the good we have in our lives and enjoy it for what it is, instead of craving for the next big thing. Which in turn will leave us constantly unsatisfied with our lives, because there will always be something more to crave for. Gratitude is a characteristic of people experiencing higher levels of well-being with known reports of 67% of grateful people experiencing gratitude “all the time” and up to 60% reporting that expressing gratitude “made them feel very happy” (Gallup: “Survey results on gratitude, adults and teenagers“). But can gratitude also function as a coping mechanism? Can it helps us deal with life’s biggest adversities and still flourish?

    Researchers Wood, Joseph and Linley set out to answer just that.

    Gratitude is correlated to happiness  and well-being

    Research done so far has shown that dispositional Gratitude has the highest correlations with life satisfaction and well-being. And consequently negative correlations with depression and envy. Which makes sense, if grateful people are focused on their achievements and value them, their sense of self-efficacy is higher and they will not envy what others have achieved that much.

    Others studies have shown that inducing gratitude during weeks in people has proven to have improvements on happiness, depression and even physical health (for a revision of studies check Wood, Joseph and Linley’s 2007 article).

    What seems to be in place here, is that not only gratitude is an important mechanism in well-being and optimism but it can also serve as a coping mechanism during stressful situations. Being grateful might actually help you deal in a more constructive way with stress and life’s adversities, making you flourish as a person.

    Gratitude is a Positive Emotion

    According to Fredrickson’s (1998, 2001) broaden-and-built model of positive emotions, positive emotions can serve as resources for building up resilience in people, as those positive emotions are stored to be used in stressful or threatening situations. But also, positive emotions are key aspects in pushing us towards an action. And given that, positive emotions helps push forward instead of holding us back.

    Gratitude seems to correlate to a higher social approach strategy, as studies have shown that grateful people are also likely to express extroversion, agreeableness, forgiveness and empathy. Which are important characteristics to consider in social interaction because they make others want to approach us.

    Grateful people see the world as a hospitable place, deemphasizing (not ignoring) the negative side of life which in turn may help them deal actively with problems they may encounter.

    But the question is: Do grateful people have more psychological resources?

    According to Wood, Joseph and Linley’s (2007) findings coping mechanisms mediate the relationship between stress and gratitude. But it also showed important differences between grateful people:

    1)      Grateful people tend to seek out emotional and instrumental social support as a coping mechanism, make use of positive reinterpretation and growth and planning

    2)      Grateful people used more positive coping mechanisms, like approaching problems instead of avoiding them

    Inversely, gratitude was negatively correlated with behavioral disengagement, self-blame, substance abuse and denial. Which can all be seen as negative coping mechanisms as they are meant to avoid problems and not fix them.

    This means that grateful people tend to use more positive strategies to deal with stress and their issues by reaching out to friends and family for support, which in turn helps decrease their levels of stress and depression and function as an active way to solve problems instead of avoiding them.

    Can being grateful be a good thing for you? It sure can. Not only because it increases your levels of well-being and life satisfaction but it can also help you cope with stress. Now the question remains: how can you be more grateful?


  2. Developing A Sense of Gratitude

    February 2, 2014

    Developing A Sense of Gratitude

    Sure, we all want to believe we are grateful for the things we have in this life, but how much do we truly practice gratitude on a daily (or even weekly) basis?  Being grateful for what one has seems to be a simple task, but surprisingly, for many people, it is not.  With the hustle and bustle of daily life, along with the development of new gadgets and gizmos everyday, it can be hard to stay grounded and appreciate the things that are a part of you life in the here and now.  Here are some tips for increasing (or developing) a sense of gratitude.


    Write it down – This might seem like a no-brainer; writing down what you are grateful for is simple.  However, it can be more difficult than you think.  First and foremost, you need to actually sit down and find the time to write.  As I stated earlier about the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it can be hard for many people to justify sitting down for a few minutes and write out these affirmations.  However, by keeping a visible list of things and people you are grateful for in your life, it can serve as a powerful reminder in times of need.  Whenever you are feeling down about life or struggling with some problem, you can pull out the list and remind yourself of just how many things you have to be thankful for.


    Letters of appreciation – Another great idea to help you feel more grateful about your life is to write a letter of appreciation to someone in your life.  You don’t actually have to send this letter if you don’t want to, but the act of writing down all the ways this person has helped you can send an important message.  First, it helps you realize that you are important and others do care about you.  And second, it allows you to take a moment to reflect on just how much another person was able to be there for you during an emotional or trying time in your life.


    Meditate – Getting in tune with your physical and mental states of being is another way to develop or strengthen gratitude.  Even sitting down for 10 minutes and focusing on yourself can help you appreciate how strong you can actually be.  Focus on your breathing, how it feels as it enters and leaves your body; focus on the physical sensations and the mental clarity that meditation can bring.  Learning to appreciate the amazing things your body can actually do helps you to feel grateful for health and well-being.


    Help someone in need –This can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be.  Maybe it’s a weekly standing date at the local shelter to lend a hand (or an ear).  Perhaps it’s volunteering once a month at the animal shelter.  Or maybe it’s simply helping someone with grocery bags outside the supermarket.  Whatever you do, no matter how large or small, the act of helping another human being helps you reconnect with your purpose in life and makes you appreciate the fact you can actually be of assistance to another person (or animal).


    Focus on what you have, not what you want – Sure, we all have wants in life.  We want to have more money, more time, a bigger house, a nicer car….the list could go on and on.  But instead of focusing on the things in life you don’t have, try refocusing your energy on what you do have.  For example, if you find yourself longing for more closet space in your bedroom and it’s stressing you out, think about the fact you are lucky to have your own bedroom – because there is someone out there sleeping on the floor (or worse, in a car or on the streets).  When you are upset because your best friend bought a new car and you’re still driving around in your clunker from college, think about that elderly gentleman who walks (rain, sleet or snow) because he can’t even afford a clunker.  When you keep the focus on what you actually have rather than what you don’t, you learn to appreciate the smaller (and greater) things in life.

    Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jstar/4345364420/




  3. The Pursuit of Happiness: 3 Facts Science Can Teach You

    June 5, 2013

    pursuit of happiness

    by Susan Martin

    Is there science to happiness or, in other words, can science teach us how to be happy? We all want to be happy. While the pursuit of happiness is an essential element of human existence, alas we are not always so clear on the details.

    The self-help industry was born to fulfill this void, and it has produced copious amounts of information to answer these basic questions. Unfortunately, self-help books and DVDs are not always the most reliable source of information.

    Fortunately, the pursuit of happiness is not the sole domain of the self-help industry. Research is actively addressing questions like ‘what makes a person happy’ and ‘how a person can improve their emotional life and emotional well-being’. Research on this area has already produced several interesting findings.

    In this post I want to explore 3 interesting facts science can teach you about being happy.

    Gratitude makes you happy

    Count your blessings is one of the oldest advice offered by the self-help industry. Most of us are highly critical of ourselves and think negative thoughts about ourselves far more often than positive thoughts. Always being critical of yourself is obviously not great for your well-being.

    Gratitude is the antidote for negativity. The idea is to focus on things you appreciate about your life, and then to be grateful of those things.

    Research by Dr. Robert Emmons at the University of California shows that practicing gratitude indeed makes you happier [1]. The researchers asked the participants to either focus on: gratitude, life hassles or neutral things. 10 weeks later the researchers measured the effects.

    Not surprisingly, the group that focused on gratitude reported significantly better emotional well-being than the other two groups. The gratitude group also felt more connected to others and acted more socially (they were more likely to give aid when requested). What’s interesting is the gratitude group also exercised an hour more per week more than the other two groups (3 hours per week vs. 4 hours for the gratitude group).

    Gratitude does work!

    Good deeds are passed on

    Marketers have long understood the concept of reciprocity. When you receive something you are far more likely to give something back. That’s why companies like to ‘so generously’ give you trinkets and freebies – so you would buy their products and services.

    A study published at the Journal of experimental psychology shows that generosity is paid forward [2]. In the study the researchers wanted to see what happens when people cannot give back to the person who initially gave them something. That is, when person A gives something to person B, what will the person B do when he or she cannot reciprocate to the person A?

    The study found that both good and bad deeds are passed on. And unfortunately people were more likely to pass on greed and other bad deeds than good deeds.

    The lesson here is clear. Be kind to others, because your behavior is passed on. You could see yourself as emanating energy that people you come in contact with pass on to others. So make sure you put out positive energy to the world.

    Happiness is a circular motion

    As humans we are often terrible at predicting what makes us happy. For example, let’s say you have $100 extra cash at your disposal and your task is to spend it in a way that maximizes your happiness. What would you do? If you are like most people, you might pamper yourself with a massage or buy something you’ve wanted for some time.

    A study by Dr. Lara Aknin published at the Journal of happiness studies shows that’s exactly the wrong thing to do [3].

    In the study the participants were asked to recall a recent purchase they had made. One group was asked to recall the last time they spent money on themselves or on others. Spending on others, also called prosocial spending, could mean buying something as a gift or a charitable donation. The group that recalled prosocial spending felt significantly happier afterwards. What’s more, they were also more likely to spend a monetary windfall of further prosocial spending than those who recalled spending on themselves.

    This research shows that spending on others creates a positive feedback loop that encourages further prosocial spending and happiness. Combine this with the previous bit about people passing on good deeds and you’ll see how powerful simple act of gift giving can be.

    As these studies show, we all have the potential to be happy. It doesn’t take great deeds or vast fortunes. Rather, happiness is a mixture of being content with what you have and treating others kindly. There’s a bit of scientific advice we all could take to heart.

    Image Credit: Marcos Vasconcelos


    [1] Emmons R, McCullough M. Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2003, Vol. 84, No. 2, 377-389.

    [2] Gray K, et al. Paying It Forward: Generalized Reciprocity and the Limits of Generosity. J Exp Psychol Gen. 2012 Dec 17.

    [3] Aknin L, et al. Happiness Runs in a Circular Motion: Evidence for a Positive Feedback Loop between Prosocial Spending and Happiness. J Happiness Stud (2012) 13:347-355.

  4. 10 Grateful Steps to Happiness

    February 6, 2013

    Reprinted from PsyBlog at http://www.spring.org.uk


    PsyBlog has gone gratitude-mad this week, what with reporting experimental evidence that practicing gratitude can increase happiness by 25% and reviewing ‘thanks’ , the book by the study’s author. To round it off here are Dr Robert Emmons’ top 10 tips for actually becoming more grateful, and consequently more happy.

    1. Keep a gratitude journal

    Sit down, daily, and write about the things for which you are grateful. Start with whatever springs to mind and work from there. Try not to write the same thing every day but explore your gratefulness.

    2. Remember the bad
    The way things are now may seem better in the light of bad memories. Don’t forget the bad things that have happened, the contrast may encourage gratefulness.

    3. Ask yourself three questions
    Choose someone you know, then first consider what you have received from them, second what you have given to them and thirdly what trouble you have caused them. This may lead to discovering you owe others more than you thought.

    4. Pray
    Whether you are Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim or atheist, a ritualised form of giving thanks may help increase gratitude.

    5. Use your senses
    80% of people say they are thankful for their health. If so, then get back in touch with the simple human fact of being able to sense what is out there: use your vision, touch, taste and smell to experience the world, and be thankful you can.

    6. Use visual reminders
    Two big obstacles to being grateful are simply forgetting and failing to be mindful. So leave a note of some kind reminding you to be grateful. It could be a post-it, an object in your home or another person to nudge you occasionally.

    7. Swear an oath to be more grateful
    Promise on whatever you hold holy that you’ll be more grateful. Sounds crazy? There’s a study to show it works.

    8. Think grateful thoughts
    Called ‘automatic thoughts’ or self-talk in cognitive therapy, these are the habitual things we say to ourselves all day long. What if you said to yourself: “My life is a gift” all day long? Too cheesy? OK, what about: “Every day is a surprise”.

    9. Acting grateful is being grateful
    Say thank you, become more grateful. It’s that simple.

    10. Be grateful to your enemies?
    It’ll take a big creative leap to be thankful to the people who you most despise. But big creative leaps are just the kind of things likely to set off a change in yourself. Give it a try.