It’s our human nature to dwell on the negative. This tendency–called the “negativity bias”–is the propensity to focus on problems, annoyances, and injustices in our lives rather than focusing on being grateful for the events or people that are working and we feel good about. But with effort we can change that propensity, and research shows that effort is well-worth it: feeling grateful can have a powerfully positive effect on our lives, health, and psychological and emotional well-being.
Cultivating gratitude is not about ignoring painful feelings or dismissing challenges. It’s is not about encouraging anyone to be pollyanna, “New Agey,” or to use spiritual bypass or toxic positivity. Those routes only lead to an increase in psychological problems. Cultivating gratitude is about the simple act of focussing daily on what you’re grateful for, which can have a tremendously positive psychological impact.
Research by Jeffrey J. Froh, an assistant professor of psychology at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., has found that adults who feel grateful are more optimistic, report more social satisfaction, experience less envy, less depression and fewer physical complaints. They also sleep better and get more exercise. Kids who experience more gratitude do better in school, set higher goals for themselves, derive more satisfaction from life, friends, family, and school and are generally less materialistic and have more desire to give back.
Gratitude can also have a social benefit. In other research by Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California-Davis and a pioneer in gratitude research, people who were assigned the task of making a daily gratitude list were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another, relative to those who focused on the hassles of life or comparing themselves to others. In other research, gratitude helped couples feel more positive about the other person and the relationship, and employees felt more motivated to work harder for their manager when their manager was grateful.
So how do we change from our negative habits to that of feeling more regular gratitude? People feel and express gratitude in multiple ways. They can apply it to the past (retrieving positive memories and being thankful for…