Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what one receives, whether it’s tangible or intangible. But how does it differ from a feeling of indebtedness And why is it important to feel more grateful in our lives?
Definition of Gratitude
Gratitude is typically defined as a state that requires one to endorse two facts: (i) that one has achieved a positive outcome, and (ii) that this positive outcome came from an external source, according to Emmons & McCullough, 2003.
Gratitude is the feeling that occurs when a person attributes a benefit they have received to another. — Robert Emmons, a leader in the field of gratitude research, The Psychology of Gratitude, 2004.
Meaning of Gratitude
The word gratitude comes from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness.
According to Cambridge English dictionary, gratitude means:
a strong feeling of appreciation to someone or something for what the person has done to help you.
According to Lexico (Oxford) dictionary, gratitude is:
the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
Gratitude vs Indebtedness
A feeling of gratitude is not the same thing as a feeling of being in debt. A feeling of indebtedness arises when a person believes they under an obligation to pay back for the act of help they received. Gratitude doesn’t involve any such obligations.
A feeling of being in debt can cause the recipient to avoid the person who helped them, while a feeling of gratitude can encourage the recipient to seek out their benefactor and to strengthen their relationship with them.
Types of Gratitude
Researchers say there are two types of gratitude:
- benefit-triggered gratitude, which is felt as a response to an action by another person (“I am grateful that my friend helped me out of this difficult situation.”)
- general gratitude, which is an overall appreciation or thankfulness for important and meaningful things in one’s life (“I am grateful for my family.”)
Importance of Gratitude In Life
The importance of gratitude has been recognized for centuries. Gratitude is one of the core components of most religions, and a highly regarded human value across many cultures.
With expressing our gratitude, we acknowledge the goodness in our lives. While doing that, we recognize some part of that goodness lies outside ourselves. Thus, it helps us connect with something more than our own selves.
For most part, it doesn’t cost us money or material to express gratitude, but its merits are many.
No matter how simple it may seem to have any effect, but gratitude has the power to positively change the way we see life and experience its challenges.Having an "attitude of gratitude" is one of the simplest ways to improve your life-satisfaction. Click To Tweet
Gratitude can also be an effective solution to some of your unresolved mental health issues:
- A research showed gratitude can significantly cut back depression in young adults by increasing self-esteem and psychological well-being.
- Another research showed gratitude can protect against suicide. The researchers found gratitude acts as a barrier between suicidal ideas and hopelessness and depression.
- Yet another research found gratitude along with grit acted in synergy to buffer suicide through increased meaning in life.
One may feel and express gratitude in several ways in terms of time:
- Apply to the past, as remembering positive moments from the past and feeling thankful for the elements or persons in them.
- Apply to the present, and genuinely appreciate every good thing that comes their way.
- Apply to the future by keeping a hopeful and optimistic attitude.
According to researchers at Eastern Washington University, the people who are grateful have these four characteristics:
- Feel a sense of abundance in their lives
- Recognize and enjoy life’s small pleasures
- Appreciate the contributions of others to their well-being
- Acknowledge the importance of experiencing and expressing gratitude
Science of Gratitude: Significant Effects of Gratitude As Per Positive Psychology
How can gratitude have so big and important effects on our lives? What does science say about significance of gratitude practice?
In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and routinely linked with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
- Feeling and expressing gratitude can boost your happiness and overall sense of wellbeing, as psychologists say (McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang, 2002).
- Gratitude has been judged as a motivating and energizing emotion (Emmons & Mishra, 2011).
- Gratitude lets people have more feelings of connectedness and greater perceived social support (Wood, Maltby, Gillett, Linley, & Joseph, 2008).
- Gratitude is linked with experiencing more daily positive emotions and fewer negative emotions (Kashdan, Uswatte, & Julian, 2006).
- Gratitude practice leads to lowering of stress (Wood et al., 2008), and fewer depressive symptoms (Lambert, Fincham, & Stillman, 2012).
- Gratitude can cause people to believe that they deserve positive results for themselves and are capable of achieving them (Lambert, Graham, Fincham, & Stillman, 2009).
- Research finds that gratitude prompts people to make progress towards their goals (Emmons & Mishra, 2011).
- According to the find-remind-and-bind theory, gratitude causes people to recognize or acknowledge relationships with others, inspiring them to engage in behaviors that bring them closer together (Algoe, 2012).
- Psychologists confirm gratitude is a great way to increase our happiness, and better our mood, health, and relationships.
Robert Emmons, gratitude researcher, says those who practice grateful thinking “reap emotional, physical and interpersonal benefits.”
Benefits of Gratitude: 4 Direct Gains
Even though it’s a small thing you practice every day, it could influence your life in some big, positive ways.
1. Gratitude Makes You More Positive
Psychologists studying the science of gratitude have discovered this: people who practice gratitude daily, are more positive, optimistic, and have a higher level of wellbeing.
Grateful people are not only more optimistic, but they also experience more positive emotions than others.
In a set of four studies, researchers McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang found feelings of gratitude are associated with less frequent negative emotions, and more frequent positive emotions such as feeling energetic, alert, and enthusiastic.
This, in turn, has a positive effect. Experiencing positive emotions more regularly can protect you from feeling the intensely negative ones, as resentment, bitterness, and greed.
People who are generally grateful also report being less narcissistic.
2. Gratitude Makes Relationships Better
A grateful person is more positive and optimistic. Such a person has healthy self-esteem and is more open to getting to know new people. And, of course, more grateful people are generous with their appreciation of others.
Gratitude helps people appreciate their close ones — family, spouse, kids, friends — and others around them more, and improve their relationship with them.
In the end, gratitude gets you being seen by others as a good person to have connections with, at home, at work, and at social meets.
Gratitude helps you appreciate the little things in life, like the efforts your dearest ones make for you. Gratitude makes you appreciate them more and positively changes the way you see your relationship with them.
Studies also show leaders who show gratitude to their teams can make them feel more motivated. And it is enough to say a simple “thank you.”
3. Gratitude Has Positive Health Benefits
Gratitude has positive effects on your physical and psychological health too, not only on your relationships.
- Studies show, if practiced daily, gratitude can lower the symptoms of anxiety and depression by up to 35%.
- Also, it can lower blood pressure and improve your sleep quality, and these lead to an increase in your wellbeing level.
- Gratitude can also help you increase your exercise frequency, thus helping you stay fit.
- When practiced daily, gratitude can lower your stress levels and help you enjoy life more.
- Gratitude can also improve your immunity.
All in all, psychologists suggest being grateful is an asset all people should strive to have in their lives. It helps you increase the frequency of your positive emotions while keeping destructive ones away.
It helps you keep stress, anxiety, and depression away and it can help you exercise more and stay fit. Gratitude also helps people recover easily from depression or substance abuse.
4. Gratitude Increases Your Happiness
In general, as studies have found, more grateful people are happier, more satisfied in their lives, and tend to care less about the material things. Also, studies show gratitude practices can improve overall happiness and mood.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of the excellent book on positive psychology, The How of Happiness, says: Gratitude …
- encourages morality
- raises self-worth and self-esteem
- helps prevent hedonic adaptation
- helps to stop comparing yourself to others
- fosters the savoring of positive experiences
- may reduce feelings of anger, resentment and greed
- helps you cope better with stressful and traumatic events
- help build new social bonds, and strengthen existing ones
Gratitude can change your mood, health, and relationships:
- It increases the frequency of positive emotions and can lift your mood up.
- It helps you keep away the destructive emotions and the hidden costs of stress, anxiety, and depression.
- It also helps you appreciate the people in your life more and then this goes on to strengthen your bonds.
So why not start practicing it? Here’s how to cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude.
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, happiness researcher. Founder of Happiness India Project, chief editor of its blog. Writes popular science articles on happiness, positive psychology, and related topics.
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