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A Guide to Gratitude

Emma Jung - Authoremma.jung@osqledaren.se

Natalie Arnold - Illustratornatalie.arnold@osqledaren.se

“It’s not the happy people who are grateful. It is the grateful people who are happy.” This quote from the English philosopher Francis Bacon posits that gratitude makes us happy. But how much truth lies in these words? What is gratitude actually, which positive effects can it have, and how can it be practiced?

Robert Emmons, one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of gratitude, gives his own twofold definition in his article “Why Gratitude Is Good”. “First, it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts, and benefits we’ve received.”

However, he emphasizes that gratitude is more than acknowledging the good in life. “The second part of gratitude is figuring out where that goodness comes from. We recognize the sources of this goodness as being outside of ourselves.” [1] Therefore, the decisive difference between gratitude and optimism lies in the social component, which is why a positive attitude to life is not to be equated with gratitude. Rather, gratitude can promote and evoke optimism.

More than 1,000 people have been part of Emmons’ studies, with ages ranging from 8 to 80. The results of his studies are astonishing: not only do the subjects feel more alive and joyful, but the effects are also to be found on several levels. [2] Those who practiced gratitude had fewer physical symptoms, such as abdominal pain and headaches, exercised more, and slept better than the control groups – just to name a few of the study results. [3]

Gratitude is not about the big things but about the small things. It doesn't mean always being happy and satisfied with everything. Rather, gratitude influences the basic attitude with which we look at life, in which we encounter obstacles, crises, and challenges. Gratitude is therefore not a conversational or polite phrase.

“Tack!” “Tack, tack!”

In my Swedish course, the word Tack (thank you) was the subject of one of the first lessons. In this lecture, it was emphasized that it is more common in Swedish than in other languages to say Tack in everyday situations. [4] But if Swedes say thank you more often, are they happier because of it? Probably not, saying Tack more frequently when ordering in a restaurant will not have an influence, if it doesn’t come from the heart.

What makes you happy?

The Canadian journalist Robert Blondin has also studied the positive effects of gratitude – more specifically, the connection between gratitude and happiness. He has interviewed people all over the world on the subject of happiness and, surprisingly, it was not the rich, the beautiful or the healthy who were happiest, but those who had survived crises and grown from them. [5]

Between university deadlines, challenging exams, public transport running late, a boring lecture and a bad grade, it can happen that the focus quickly shifts to the negative things in life. Gratitude can help with tackling this negative outlook on life.

The feeling of sunshine on your skin, a stranger’s smile, the delicious smell of pastries, help from a friend with a difficult exercise or the new episode of your favorite show – all of these are things for which we can feel grateful for in everyday life. But how do we find the time and space to implement gratitude into our lives, considering our often hectic schedules? And where should we start?

4 ways to implement gratitude into your life [6, 7]

1. Gratitude journal – with routine

Put a journal in a fixed place in your room (e.g. bedside table) and take a fixed time in the day (e.g. before going to bed) to reflect on what you feel grateful for today. The effects of this method have been proven in many scientific studies.

2. Three good things – with little time

This is an exercise you can do anytime and anywhere. Be it on the bus or train on the way to the university, on a study break or on the way home after a night out.

Take one or two minutes and answer the following question:

What three things have you been grateful for lately, and how did they make you feel?

3. Gratitude list – with more time

This method takes a little more time. It calls all the things you can be grateful for to your attention. You will need some paper and a pen, or you can start a note on your phone.

Now complete the following sentences:

It is very special that ...

I am lucky that ...

Not everyone can say that ...

Today I was especially happy that ...

Maybe I have a lot of reasons to be sad/angry/worried/... right now. But still …

Take at least 5 minutes to complete the sentences, and feel free to write more. In the end, you will have a list that you can look back on in the future, that reminds you of things you are grateful for.

4. Gratitude letter – to send or simply keep

Write a letter to a person for whom you are grateful. Perhaps there is a person you are thinking of right now that you don't thank often or haven't had a chance to thank yet. You can send the letter after writing, but you don't have to.

Practice makes perfect

Not every method will work for everyone, and it also takes time, perseverance, and practice to enter the state of gratitude. Trying out some different approaches and also switching up gratitude routines can be really helpful, so that no habituation arises. And even if it may feel a bit strange at first, it's definitely worth a try.

[1] Emmons, R. (2010). Why gratitude is good. [online] Greater Good. Available at: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good
[2] Maeck, S. (2016). Dankbarkeit: Die Wurzel für Gesundheit und Wohlbefinden. Der Spiegel. [online] 26 Dec. Available at: https://www.spiegel.de/gesundheit/psychologie/dankbarkeit-die-wurzel-fuer-gesundheit-und-wohlbefinden-a-1124119.html
[3] Emmons, R. (2010). Why gratitude is good. [online] Greater Good. Available at: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good
[4] Paula Levy Scherrer and Lindemalm, K. (2007). Rivstart A1 och A2. Publisher: Natur Och Kultur,Stockholm. p.37
[5] Wlodarek, E. (2022). Wissenschaftlich erwiesen: Dankbarkeit macht glücklich. [online] www.abendblatt.de. Available at: https://www.abendblatt.de/hamburg/von-mensch-zu-mensch/article236378561/Wissenschaftlich-erwiesen-Dankbarkeit-macht-gluecklich.html
[6] Rudolph, M. (2020). Dankbarkeit: 10 einfache Methoden Dankbarkeit zu lernen. [online] Zeit zu leben. Available at: https://zeitzuleben.de/dankbarkeit/#10_Dankbarkeitsmethoden_Welche_ist_was_fuer_dich
[7] Greater Good. (n.d.). Gratitude Definition | What Is Gratitude. [online] Available at: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/gratitude/definition#how-cultivate-gratitude

Publicerad: 2023-11-02

Ansvarig utgivare: Benjamin Javitz
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