#7 Counting Blessings

I recently read some articles written by Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California who is one of the most well-known experts on Gratitude. In this week's issue, I’ll be sharing a research and social experiment he conducted in 2003 with the help of Michael McCullough, the professor of psychology at the University of Miami and an author.

As a part of the experiment, 192 undergraduate students were given a packet of 10 weekly reports. These participants were then divided into three groups who were asked to reflect upon three major types of conditions respectively: Gratitude, Hassles, and Life Events. Now, here’s the interesting part –

  1. The participants of the Gratitude Conditions wrote things like – waking up this morning, the generosity of friends, to God for giving me determination, for wonderful parents, to the Lord, and to the Rolling Stones
  2. In the Hassles Condition, the students wrote things like – hard to find parking, the messy kitchen no one will clean, finances depleting quickly, having a horrible test, stupid people driving, and doing a favour for an ungrateful friend.
  3. The participants of the Life Events Conditions wrote things like – talked to a doctor about medical school, learned CPR, cleaned out my shoe closet, flew back to Sacramento, and other circumstances and events that affected them in the past week.

Overall, it was noticed that the participants in the gratitude condition were more satisfied with their lives as a whole, felt more optimistic about the upcoming week, and felt more connected with others than did participants in the control or events condition.

It takes equal effort to record the things you are grateful for as it takes for the things that you’re annoyed by. But it’s more about how the reflections impact you and your perception of life. It’s clear that gratitude manipulation increases the positive effect as well as helps in reducing the negative effect. It totally depends on what you’re focusing on – the blessings or the burdens. The two psychologists open their report with a Charles Dickens quote that conveys the message accurately – “Reflect on your present blessings, on which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”

Personally, I had never reflected on such stuff properly but this week I decided to give it a try. I wrote a log every day (morning and evening) using the 5 Minutes Journal app by Intelligent Change.

Just within a few days of writing these entries, I found myself making notes on little things that would usually go unnoticed. Doing a decent amount of reflection daily makes you think about time on earth with a broader perspective. You actively get forced to answer those prompts. I have noticed that maintaining a daily log helped me to stay mentally clear and have a more optimistic attitude.

Journaling is something worth giving a try, five minutes a day with a pen and paper is enough if you focus on the right stuff. Think about it this way – People celebrate Thanksgiving once a year but what if it was extended as a daily thing? 

A Year-Long Thanksgiving!