The Science of Gratitude

Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

“Gratitude provides life meaning, by encapsulating life itself as a gift.” Emmons and Shelton (2002) in Gratitude and the Science of Positive Psychology.

On my meditation journey, I have discovered the remarkable virtue of gratitude.

I don’t often dive head first into an idea based on a whimsical notion of warm fuzziness, I usually look for the evidence, the science, and for a sign that many others have created a well worn path for me to follow, and come back to tell their (successful) tale.

This idea is no different. I am not wandering down an airy-fairy path of peace loving hippiness, thanking all the world for the divine gift that is this day, I am trialling being truly grateful for things which I have, or have received. In a matter of fact kind of way.

So after looking into the science of gratitude, and having a bit of a go at cultivating it and feeling the benefits, I am going to share the love here on this blog. My intention is to gain some perspective on gratitude, and then be able to model and share the concept with my children. Practicing what I preach.

By definition, “virtues are acquired excellences, acquired only through sustained focus and effort” (Emmons and Shelton). Our children are not born grateful (ain’t that the truth!). They acquire virtues (or not!), and specifically, a concrete understanding of gratitude between the ages of 7 and 10.

In their book, The Psychology of Gratitude, Emmons and McCullough explain how positive emotions outlast the experience which created them. Simply experiencing positive emotions protects us and gives us a reserve to take into any new experiences. So by repeatedly experiencing gratitude, we take with us the benefits of gratitude and the emotions that go along it, into the future, even when the object we are grateful for is long gone. A good reason to count our blessings eh?

My plan is to model grateful language and behaviours in front of my children as much as possible up until around age 6 or 7, and then test the waters and see if they can join in sharing their gratitudes.

For now, we ask our children regularly at dinner time “What was your favourite part of today?”, hoping that this will be a scaffold into “What are you grateful for today?” in coming years.

Wood, Joseph and Maltby found that gratitude has a strong relationship with a person’s satisfaction with life. Not only are the feelings and emotions that come with being grateful handy, the actual act of being grateful is an experience of wanting what we already have, and therefore doesn’t leave us pining for something we don’t have. It doesn’t leave us feeling any discontent or looking to fill a void with other people or material things. The benefits seem limitless!

Each Thursday, to remind myself and any others who wish to come along on this journey, I will list three simple things that I am grateful for. If you feel like doing the same, list yours in the comments.