RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS PA—A new study presented at the annual American Psychological Association meeting this month appears to answer an age-old question unequivocally—especially for people who tend to be self-critical. What makes people happy? Being grateful for the good thing that you have in your life.
THE DETAILS: Researchers at York University in Toronto divided 200 moderately depressed people into two groups. Over the course of seven days, one group listened daily to music designed to boost mood, and the other completed an online “gratitude exercise” every night, in which they were asked to list “five things that happened during the day that [they] were grateful for.” At five different points (start of study, end of study week, and one, three, and six months post-study), the researchers measured the participants’ depressive symptoms, happiness, and satisfaction with life in general. What they found was that both groups were less depressed six months post-study, but the self-critical individuals in the gratitude group reported a greater boost in overall happiness than any of the other participants.
WHAT IT MEANS: Gratitude offers a paradigm shift—a change in perspective when perhaps nothing else has changed. “A sense of gratitude helps you feel positive about the people and things in your life, and about your life in general,” says psychologist Jeffrey Rossman, Ph.D., director of Life Management at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Massachusetts and a Rodale.com advisor. “When you have positive feelings about your life, you tend to be happier, more energetic, and more productive." To paraphrase the Rolling Stones, says Rossman: “You can’t always get what you want, but you can be grateful for what you have. In fact, being grateful for what you have is one of the keys to being happy and having satisfying relationships.”
If the Stones don't convince you, Rossman suggests taking the advice of a different kind of celebrity. “Albert Einstein said, ‘There are only two ways to live your life: One is as though nothing is a miracle; the other is as though everything is a miracle,’ Rossman continues. “When you appreciate the miracle of your life, you live with a profound sense of gratitude for the gift of life, and that enables you to live a more vital and satisfying life.”
Here’s how to maximize gratitude—and, therefore, happiness—in your own life: