The Secret to Feeling Energized
How is it gauged? In one study, researchers asked a group of healthy college-age adults to keep a weekly list of five things for which they were grateful ("the generosity of friends," "the music of the Rolling Stones," "wonderful parents"), while another group of students was asked to track hassles ("stupid people driving," "messy kitchen no one will clean," "finances depleting quickly") or to rate their responses to various life events ("learned CPR," "cleaned out my shoe closet"). A third group, this one consisting of adults with chronic neuromuscular diseases, wrote down what they were grateful for each day for three weeks ("my boss for understanding my needs," "my paperboy for being so reliable"), while a similar group counted burdens instead.
According to results published in the March 2003 issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the participants who counted blessings -- whether they were the healthy students or the chronically ill adults -- reported feeling more energetic and a heightened sense of mental well-being. The students exercised more; the chronically ill adults reported sleeping well and waking up more refreshed. The grateful groups also reported feeling optimistic and better about their lives as a whole -- they looked forward to making progress toward important goals. Gratitude also turned out to be measurable in the moral sphere. The grateful groups were more likely to help someone with a personal problem or to offer emotional support.
Psychologists and other experts speculate that some people are genetically predisposed to be grateful, much the way some have a flair for drawing and others are shy in a group. "There are people who seem on the face of it to have very little to be thankful about, yet they're still grateful," observes Sharon Salzberg, a meditation teacher in Barre, Massachusetts. People with grateful natures tend to feel grateful whether something good happens to them or not. Feeling grateful is, in essence, their baseline mood, their personality's default screen saver, if you will.Noticing the Positive
Of course, science has yet to invent a once-a-day gratitude pill. But even if we're tough to impress or our life has hit turbulence or we're simply feeling feelingless, we can still get a significant boost by acknowledging whichever events and experiences have gone right for us -- a sunny day, a good parking space, our mate bringing us a cup of tea unbidden, a favorite song coming over the radio. "It's not about forcing a feeling," says Salzberg. "It's about paying attention in a different way. Challenges can feel permanent, as if they'll never go away. But the truth in life is that everything changes. And in the meantime we can make a conscious effort to look at the good."
Elaine Porter, a 46-year-old sales associate in Chicago and the mother of two sons, chose gratitude as a response when she was a girl, growing up in a chaotic home. "My dad was an alcoholic, and my parents fought a lot." Porter says that her older sister watched out for her. "She even took me along with her on dates." Porter remembers understanding at a young age that, to get by, she would "have to look for what was positive," an attitude that has gone on to serve her well. Her first husband died, and her second marriage ended in divorce. Her mother is ill, and her 25-year-old son recently confided that he has been struggling with a drug addiction. Still, Porter continues to choose gratitude. "I feel grateful that my son came to me and told me about his drug problem, so that I could help get him into rehab. You can't choose what life throws at you. But you can choose the way you look at those things."