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Life Arts

Six Habits of Highly Grateful People

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3. They take the good things as gifts, not birthrights
From http://www.flickr.com/photos/63021736@N02/11971218105/: family
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(image by Cheryl Rae)


What's the opposite of gratitude? Entitlement--the attitude that people owe you something just because you're so very special.

"In all its manifestations, a preoccupation with the self can cause us to forget our benefits and our benefactors or to feel that we are owed things from others and therefore have no reason to feel thankful," writes Robert Emmons, co-director of the GGSC's Gratitude project. "Counting blessings will be ineffective because grievances will always outnumber gifts."

The antidote to entitlement, argues Emmons, is to see that we did not create ourselves--we were created, if not by evolution, then by God; or if not by God, then by our parents. Likewise, we are never truly self-sufficient. Humans need other people to grow our food and heal our injuries; we need love, and for that we need family, partners, friends, and pets.

"Seeing with grateful eyes requires that we see the web of interconnection in which we alternate between being givers and receivers," writes Emmons. "The humble person says that life is a gift to be grateful for, not a right to be claimed."

4. They're grateful to people, not just things
At the start of this piece, I mentioned gratitude for sunlight and trees. That's great for me--and it may have good effects, like leading me to think about my impact on the environment--but the trees just don't care. Likewise, the sun doesn't know I exist; that big ball of flaming gas isn't even aware of its own existence, as far as we know. My gratitude doesn't make it burn any brighter.

That's not true of people--people will glow in gratitude. Saying thanks to my son might make him happier and it can strengthen our emotional bond. Thanking the guy who makes my coffee can strengthen social bonds--in part by deepening our understanding of how we're interconnected with other people.

My colleague Emiliana Simon-Thomas, the GGSC's science director and another co-director of our Expanding Gratitude project, puts it this way:

Experiences that heighten meaningful connections with others--like noticing how another person has helped you, acknowledging the effort it took, and savoring how you benefitted from it--engage biological systems for trust and affection, alongside circuits for pleasure and reward. This provides a synergistic and enduring boost to the positive experience. Saying "thank you' to a person, your brain registers that something good has happened and that you are more richly enmeshed in a meaningful social community.

5. They mention the pancakes

From http://www.flickr.com/photos/17152247@N00/11901069044/
(image by kennejima)


Grateful people are habitually specific. They don't say, "I love you because you're just so wonderfully wonderful, you!" Instead, the really skilled grateful person will say: "I love you for the pancakes you make when you see I'm hungry and the way you massage my feet after work even when you're really tired and how you give me hugs when I'm sad so that I'll feel better!"

The reason for this is pretty simple: It makes the expression of gratitude feel more authentic, for it reveals that the thanker was genuinely paying attention and isn't just going through the motions. The richest thank you's will acknowledge intentions ("the pancakes you make when you see I'm hungry") and costs ("you massage my feet after work even when you're really tired"), and they'll describe the value of benefits received ("you give me hugs when I'm sad so that I'll feel better").

When Amie Gordon and colleagues studied gratitude in couples, they found that spouses signal grateful feelings through more caring and attentive behavior. They ask clarifying questions; they respond to trouble with hugs and to good news with smiles. "These gestures," Gordon writes, "can have profound effects: Participants who were better listeners during those conversations in the lab had partners who reported feeling more appreciated by them."

Remember: Gratitude thrives on specificity!

6. They thank outside the box

(image by greatergood)

But let's get real: Pancakes, massages, hugs? Boring! Most of my examples so far are easy and clichéd. But here's who the really tough-minded grateful person thanks: the boyfriend who dumped her, the homeless person who asked for change, the boss who laid him off.

We're graduating from Basic to Advanced Gratitude, so pay attention. And since I myself am still working on Basic, I'll turn once again to Dr. Emmons for guidance: "It's easy to feel grateful for the good things. No one "feels' grateful that he or she has lost a job or a home or good health or has taken a devastating hit on his or her retirement portfolio."

In such moments, he says, gratitude becomes a critical cognitive process--a way of thinking about the world that can help us turn disaster into a stepping stone. If we're willing and able to look, he argues, we can find a reason to feel grateful even to people who have harmed us. We can thank that boyfriend for being brave enough to end a relationship that wasn't working; the homeless person for reminding us of our advantages and vulnerability; the boss, for forcing us to face new challenges.

"Life is suffering. No amount of positive thinking exercises will change this truth," writes Emmons in his Greater Good article "How Gratitude Can Help You Through Hard Times." He continues:

So telling people simply to buck up, count their blessings, and remember how much they still have to be grateful for can certainly do much harm. Processing a life experience through a grateful lens does not mean denying negativity. It is not a form of superficial happiology. Instead, it means realizing the power you have to transform an obstacle into an opportunity. It means reframing a loss into a potential gain, recasting negativity into positive channels for gratitude.

That's what truly, fantastically grateful people do. Can you?


Six Habits of Highly Grateful People" by Jeremy Adam Smith originally appeared on Greater Good, the online magazine of UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center. To view the original article, see  http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/six_habits_of_highly_grateful_people

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http://greatergood.berkeley.edu

The Greater Good Science Center studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society.



Based at the University of California, Berkeley, the GGSC is unique in its commitment to both science and practice: not only do we sponsor groundbreaking scientific research into social and emotional well-being, we help people apply this research to their personal and professional lives. Since 2001, we have been at the fore of a new scientific movement to explore the roots of happy and compassionate individuals, strong social bonds, and altruistic behavior—the science of a meaningful life. And we have been without peer in our award-winning efforts to translate and disseminate this science to the public.


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Was grateful to read your article about the six ha... by Linda Davidson on Saturday, Jan 18, 2014 at 12:17:16 PM
I see where you are coming from. Buddhism 101. I ... by Paul Easton on Sunday, Jan 26, 2014 at 11:54:25 AM