The Secret to Feeling Energized

How feeling thankful about ordinary pleasures can pay off with better health, happiness, and energy.
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Small Changes

I had a discouraging year. I was working on a book that wouldn't flow, trying to write stories I felt fearful to feel and ill equipped to tell. Nothing bad had happened to me, yet I was spiritually cranky and emotionally depleted. Even my ordinary daily pleasures -- a perfect cup of morning coffee, the late-afternoon light illuminating the cityscape outside my window, the proper degree of curl in my hair -- left me feeling unimpressed. No matter how often I told myself what you probably tell yourself when you feel grumpy and frustrated -- a hundred versions of "Be grateful you're not sick or homeless or living in Iraq" -- nothing helped.

Then I spent the summer at an artists' colony in the woods of New Hampshire. For seven weeks I enjoyed what was for me, a city girl, an exotic escape. I was mesmerized by the deer and wild turkeys that grazed in the meadow beyond my writing studio. I listened to the trees shiver and the insects gossip. I read and read and wrote and wrote. My lunch turned up in a basket outside my door, and in the evenings I laughed with new friends around the dinner table, played some Ping-Pong, then let the stars guide me back to bed. In that alternate life I rediscovered what I'd been missing -- the pleasure of being myself. Through some alchemy of sky and grass and quiet and laughter, the fear retreated, the sentences came, and the dissatisfaction melted away. How lucky I am, I found myself thinking in those woods many times over, as I savored the color of the sky, the flavor of the soup, or just the ease of my own breath. It was when I tried to give my luck a name that the name turned out to be gratitude.

Why It Feels So Good

According to a series of new studies, the well-being I felt in the woods has a scientific basis. "Grateful people tend to be the happiest," says Michael McCullough, PhD, an associate professor of psychology and religious studies at the University of Miami. McCullough was one of the investigators on the Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness. Study subjects who did regular "gratitude interventions" felt so much better afterward that even their spouses noticed the difference. "People who are grateful tend to have low rates of depression," he explains. "With gratitude, there is virtually no downside."

We've long accepted the idea that a grateful outlook on life is desirable, but more because it speaks to one's character rather than life satisfaction. After all, we've been schooled since childhood to give thanks, be it in the form of a handwritten note or grace spoken before a meal. We are surrounded by paeans to the gratefully lived life, whether it is the prayerful "Namaste" (thank you) of yoga class or the reflective readings at spiritual retreats.

All of which makes the latest research into gratitude's measurable benefits so intriguing. It implies that simply by noticing, day by day, the relationships, events, and experiences that benefit us, we can extend gratitude's psychic rewards to our physical health and our psychological attitude.

Continued on page 2:  Gratitude's Rewards

 

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