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Episode 193: Gratitude

Every self help and happiness book, my own included, suggests that gratitude plays a big component in improving our well being and happiness, and with good reason. So if we can understand more about why it does, then it can make it more likely that we'll play the game properly rather than doing stuff just because social psychologists say that we should.

A major part of it is that it links us with other people, gratitude is very much a social thing, which gives our unconscious emotional brain feedback about whether or not we fit in in our world.
Gratitude protects us from rejection and he's with a sense of belonging. When we feel appreciative of other people in our life we feel closer to them and strong social connections are a massive benefit in keeping us mentally well.

One study that I particularly like was run by Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of the "Positive Psychology" movement when it first took off in the early 2000's.
He got around 400 people and split them into 1 of 6 groups with varying tasks to do over the course of 7 days. One of the tasks was to write and then deliver a letter of gratitude in person to someone who had been especially kind to them but had never been properly thanked.
This group had a huge spike in wellbeing compared to any of the other 5 groups. Showing a significant lowering in depressive scoring which lasted for a month after the study had finished and was still having an effect at the 6 month follow up.
Most likely this exercise even had benefits for the recipient also as other studies have shown that being appreciated and thanked has a big influence on us too and is even a great workplace motivator.
The University of Pennsylvania showed this with some people who were fundraising by cold calling people on the phone. They did an experiment where half of the fundraisers listened to a speech from one of their Managers before starting work. A simple message that thanked them and told them she was grateful for their work. The group that was thanked made 50% more fundraising calls than the group that was not.

What these thongs show us is that the social connections that come with being grateful for another person has a really positive influence on us. So it's worth us being aware of this if we're trying to be more grateful and appreciative, we need to include other people into the mix.

I say so many times that there are no real rules to happiness, we just need to do what works for us. Although one tip is to make sure you don't do the same thing every day. Thinking about 3 things that you're grateful for, right before you go to bed might be fine. But to spend half an hour trying to emerse yourself in gratitude every day would probably backfire as it may simply become second nature and might stop having such a positive effect.
Instead, maybe once or twice a week, ask yourself some questions about what you'd miss or who you'd miss if they were gone. Maybe also seeing that others would think the same way about you. If you can make it more about experiences you can have and the people in your life then you may find it has a greater impact.
Shiny things like smartphones might be great but it's just a thing and we can get used to things. Instead think about what they can do for us. Rather than "I love my phone" think "I love being able to listen to podcasts" "I love being able to listen to music whenever want" "I love seeing photos of my friends and family and the experiences I've had with them any time I like." That sort of thing. Practise this and don't be surprised of 2021 turns out to be better than you expected.