A bundle in our family was at the airport on our way to a family vacation, away from the wintry weather of Chicago and the snow storms were threatening, and our flight was delayed — 6+ hours, but who’s counting?! Folks at the gate were irate. Some threatened to abandon the trip altogether (they didn’t), others called the airlines central office, and one irate person threatened to call the media (as if they Chicago media don’t have leads and tips and stories about more substantive matters). One young adult sat next to the window weeping (aloud on the phone) that she was going to be the last one to arrive at some event.
Hoop, hoop, they gave us a breakfast voucher and we got a bit of food and read our books and checked our e-mails and watched for updates and sat around and chatted. We did some stretching, and at least three of us did a “plank” right there between the seats. Yes, we got to our destination seven hours later than we expected (but it was raining earlier so we missed no sun).
Most, and I want to emphasize this, most took it all in stride but the “irate at the gate” crowd was both amusing and instructive. Poor us, citizens of a fine country and privileged. Then I ran into this article and it made me think of how much we can be grateful for and to whom we can be grateful, and — to boot — a gratitude attitude makes us a smidgeon happier. So, why not?
Everybody knows that you should be grateful for what you’ve got. We have all heard that we should develop an ‘attitude of gratitude’ but the problem is that we aren’t often told how to do that properly. Because we aren’t told how to, we try to be generally happier with our lot in life, which gives us the tiniest spike of happiness, but it’s often not enough to get us hooked on the gratitude habit.
In light of this, I started to ask myself the questions, why should we feel gratitude? What benefits are there to having a feeling of appreciation for the things that are in our lives?
The simplest and most straight-forward answer to these questions is that being grateful in general provides no distinct or measurable benefit whatsoever, other than of course, the previously mentioned slightly increased feeling that life can’t be so bad if you have something to be grateful for….
According to Robert Emmons (a world leader into research into gratitude) there are 5 key benefits to actively practicing gratitude:
Increased Happiness: The active practice of gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25%.
Sustained Happiness: Actively practicing gratitude over 3 weeks can create an effect that lasts 6 months if not longer.
Reduced Materialism: Grateful individuals place less importance on material goods; they are less likely to judge their own and the successes of others in terms of possessions accumulated and are less envious of other people.
Increased Prosociality: Being pro-actively grateful increases the capacity to be empathic and to take the perspective of others. Grateful individuals are recognised as more generous and more helpful by people in their social networks.
Other Benefits: Emmons’ research showed that cultivating gratitude can bring other health benefits, such as longer and better quality sleep time which in turn leads to better concentration.