Research on slippery subjects such as the power of prayer or happiness rarely produces clear-cut answers, but a new study indicates that the simple act of counting your blessings can cheer you up.
Psychologists Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Michael McCullough of the University of Miami did three related experiments with two types of subjects: college students and adults with chronic neuromuscular disease. In the first test, students were asked to make weekly lists of things they were grateful for. Another group was told to list hassles; a third served as controls. Later, the subjects were given lists of adjectives and asked to check the ones that described their physical and mental states.
The second study required subjects to keep daily records of their health and mood for 2 weeks. In the third study, chronic patients were divided into two groups--half kept a daily record for 3 weeks; the other half added a gratitude list.
The upshot of all three experiments was roughly the same: Participants in the "gratitude condition" reported "considerably more satisfaction with their lives as a whole"--more often using words such as "optimistic," "energetic," and "enthusiastic" to describe themselves. They also said they felt more connected with others. "Gratitude, thus, is a form of love," say the researchers, whose study appears in the 15 March issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. But unlike love, gratitude can't conquer all: The grateful patients reported no improvement in health.
Still, gratitude really is a recipe for happiness, says psychologist David Lykken of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. This kind of research, he says, helps show that despite the fact that people tend to have innate "happiness set-points," it's possible to raise those set-points up a notch or two.