What’s an easy way to be much happier?

Jeremy Dean’s amazing Psyblog provides us with three studies that show a consistent theme: take the time to write down the things you are thankful for on a regular basis and you can improve your level of happiness:

  1. Emmons and McCullough (2003) were surprised to find that happiness could be increased by a simple gratitude exercise. Participants took the time to write down 5 things they were grateful for each week, for 10 weeks. At the end of the study this group were 25% happier than a comparison group who simply listed five events from the week.
  2. Lyubomirsky et al. (2005) compared practising gratitude three times a week with once a week. They found that only those who carried out the exercise once a week were happier. This suggests overdoing the gratitude is not beneficial – perhaps because of habituation.
  3. Seligman, Steen, Park and Peterson (2005) carried out a randomised, placebo-controlled study. They followed participants up 6 months after they had begun carrying out a simple gratitude exercise and found they were happier and less depressed than a control group. In this study, though, participants initially wrote about what they were grateful for every day for a week.

No, just mumbling them at Thanksgiving is not enough.

I’ve posted before about a similar method for quickly boosting happiness:

The authors hypothesized that thinking about the absence of a positive event from one’s life would improve affective states more than thinking about the presence of a positive event but that people would not predict this when making affective forecasts. In Studies 1 and 2, college students wrote about the ways in which a positive event might never have happened and was surprising or how it became part of their life and was unsurprising. As predicted, people in the former condition reported more positive affective states. In Study 3, college student forecasters failed to anticipate this effect. In Study 4, Internet respondents and university staff members who wrote about how they might never have met their romantic partner were more satisfied with their relationship than were those who wrote about how they did meet their partner. The authors discuss the implications of these findings for the literatures on gratitude induction and counterfactual reasoning.

Source: “It’s a wonderful life: Mentally subtracting positive events improves people’s affective states, contrary to their affective forecasts.” from Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

Don’t doubt the power of gratitude. Bob Sutton, author of Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best… and Learn from the Worst, covers an interesting study on the power of “thank you”:

The simple act of having a boss come by and offer a public thanks to one group, and but not the other, really packed a wallop. These fundraisers were paid a fixed salary, so Grant and Gino compared the number of phone calls made be each fundraiser before and after the “thank you” intervention. The results were pretty impressive, as while there was no change in the average number of calls made by the group that was not offered thanks, the folks who heard a warm two sentence thank you from a boss made an average of about 50% more calls during the subsequent week.

How grateful you are is related to a lot of other positive factors:

Materialistic youth seem to be languishing while grateful youth seem to be flourishing. High school students (N = 1,035) completed measures of materialism, gratitude, academic functioning, envy, depression, life satisfaction, social integration, and absorption. Using structural equation modeling, we found that gratitude, controlling for materialism, uniquely predicts all outcomes considered: higher grade point average, life satisfaction, social integration, and absorption, as well as lower envy and depression. In contrast, materialism, controlling for gratitude, uniquely predicts three of the six outcomes: lower grade point average, as well as higher envy and life satisfaction. Furthermore, when examining the relative strengths of gratitude and materialism as predictors, we found that gratitude is generally a stronger predictor of these six outcomes than is materialism.

Source: “Gratitude and the Reduced Costs of Materialism in Adolescents” from Journal of Happiness Studies (11 March 2010)

Gratitude might predict relationship satisfaction:

Recent research has underscored the importance of gratitude to psychological and physical well-being (Emmons & McCullough, 2003), and has shown that gratitude can help facilitate the development of close relationships (Algoe, Haidt, & Gable, 2008). To date, however, little is known about gratitude among long-term married couples. The present investigation aims to examine the association between gratitude and marital satisfaction at both the individual and dyadic level. Furthermore, this study was designed to clarify the unique contributions of both feeling and expressing gratitude in marriage. Fifty couples (both husbands and wives) with a mean relationship length of 20.7 years participated in this study. Daily diary methodology was used to collect each individual’s self-reported ratings of felt and expressed gratitude as well as relationship satisfaction for 2 weeks. Consistent with hypotheses, results indicate that one’s felt and expressed gratitude both significantly relate to one’s own marital satisfaction. Cross-partner analyses indicate that the individual’s felt gratitude also predicts the spouse’s satisfaction, whereas surprisingly his or her expressed gratitude does not. Results are discussed in the context of relationship enhancement both at the individual and dyadic level.

Source: “Have you thanked your spouse today?: Felt and expressed gratitude among married couples” from Personality and Individual Differences

So be thankful today. And be happier.

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How to make yourself happier in just a few seconds

How does what you have and what you want affect happiness?

Do happy people love their jobs or do good jobs make people happy?


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