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Positive Psychology of Gratitude

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How Can the Practice of Gratitude Enhance Your Life as a Nurse?

Studies show how the habit and practice of gratitude can enhance your life, your work and the lives of all around you.

Positive Psychology of Gratitude

Research conducted in the field of positive psychology provides empirical support for the intuitive wisdom of the many spiritual traditions regarding the practice of gratitude. Dr. Martin Seligman, (1) considered the founder of the school of positive psychology, conducted a study in which the effects of positive interventions were measured on 411 participants, along with a control measure of writing about their earliest memories:

"When their week's assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores. This impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for a month."

We hear much in today's self-care cultural about the need to develop an "attitude of gratitude." And, especially around this time of year, many of us are encouraged to reflect on the people and things which we are most grateful for in our lives. But, as with many practices such as "mindfulness" and "holistic health", to name a few, unless it becomes a part of our beliefs and worldview we easily lose sight of the inherent power it can have in our lives. To be able to truly embrace, appreciate and believe in the manifold benefits of gratitude, we must start by exploring its etymological roots.

According to the article linked below from Harvard Medical School (1), titled "In Praise of Gratitude", the word is derived from the Latin gratia, denoting grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. Gratitude, in short, is "a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible." This can include anything from our state of health and our finances to our relationship with our families, as well as our connection to the wider world and universe. 

It is no surprise, then, that gratitude is a central tenant of many of the world's religions, encouraging people to express thanksgiving for the blessings and good fortune they have received. Even seemingly negative experiences can serve as sources of gratitude, if they have helped spurred us to greater growth, awareness, and understanding. As St. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians: "In all things, give thanks." (5:18)

In another study, conducted by Drs. Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough (1), participants were tasked with writing a few sentences per week focusing on specific topics:

"One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them, with no emphasis on them being positive or negative. After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation." Gratitude helps organize our time and lives.

Gratitude can also pay dividends in the workplace. Supervisors who make it a point to express thanks for their employee's efforts can see an increase in worker productivity. Wharton School researchers found that university employees soliciting alumni donations who received encouraging words of gratitude from their director, "made 50% more fund-raising calls than those who did not." (2)

While studies such as these cannot conclusively demonstrate a cause and effect relationship, they do show an encouraging correlation between adopting practices of gratitude and an increased sense of well-being.

What are some ways gratitude can be practiced and cultivated?

Show your gratitude to co-workers

Sometimes just a simple compliment, or giving recognition for their caring work and how that impacts your day is a great way to not only enhance your colleagues sense of value, but also uplift the work place. It gives you an opportunity to reward an individual who is caring and helping others.

Write a thank you note

"You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person's impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month. Once in a while, write one to yourself."

Count blessings

"Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings - reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number - such as three to five things - that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you."

Prayer

"People who are religious can use prayer to cultivate gratitude."

References

1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/in-praise-of-gratitude
2. http://www.math.montana.edu/parker/courses/STAT401/project2_gratitude.pdf

Georgianna Donadio, MSc, DC, PhD, is the Director of the National Institute of Whole Health, and a health care visionary who pioneered the integration of Whole Health and Whole Person Healthcare within medical and holistic health organizations. Georgianna is one of only six Florence Nightingale Scholars in the U.S., an MNA award-winning Nurse Advocate and widely published Integrative Health expert and healthcare provider. Named “Best Integrative Healthcare Practitioner” in Boston, for 20 years she hosted the nationally syndicated, regionally Emmy nominated women’s TV programming, Woman-to-Woman®. She is currently the host of iHeart radio’s Living above the Drama which is heard globally, and an Amazon #1 Bestselling award winning author. She has been a regular contributor/writer for the Huffington Post, Dr Oz’s Share Care, Daily Strength and other national blogs.

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