Do you want to live a more fulfilled, happy, meaningful life?
That’s why we’re here
If you find your life speeding you by while your dreams and aspirations are stuck on the back burner? Today we aim to show you how simple changes to your lifestyle can help you fulfill your true potential.
We will introduce you to a framework of 7 habits that can be lived each day and help you perform consistently better.
The Wondrlust Project was the name we gave to a series of internal research projects and programmes designed to understand better how to create a truly special or peak experience.
Our research and experimenting found expression in an online magazine which we called Wondrlust
Wondrlust Magazine – Daily Posts
Being In The Zone: The Flow State In Athletic Endeavors
by Editor on 20th May 2018 at 5:00 am
Sometimes in an athletic endeavor, you can’t go wrong. You anticipate next steps, you are right where you need to be, and you feel invincible. You might […]
Flow 101: 5 of the World’s Best Athletes Reveal the Secrets of the Zone
by Editor on 20th May 2018 at 5:00 am
In the first episode of The Rise of Superman video series, some masters of flow -- including Travis Rice, Jimmy Chin, Chase Jarvis, Mike Horn, Dean Potter, […]
How To Perform In The Zone
by Editor on 20th May 2018 at 5:00 am
How often do you or your athletes perform in the “the zone”? What is the zone? The zone is simply a mental state of total focus in the present moment. We […]
Happiness is an essential human right. Both Confucius and Socrates implied that happiness and personal growth were a major purpose of life, and a central goal of education. According to the Federalist Papers, written by the founders of U.S. government, “A good government implies two things: first, fidelity to the object of government, which is the happiness of the people; secondly, a knowledge of the means by which that object can be best attained.”
More than two hundred years later, our schools and universities are still neglecting these goals. We are so busy cultivating our intellectual skills in the pursuit of wealth and status, that we have neglected the pursuit of happiness. Thanks to the emergence of Positive Psychology and the new “Science of Happiness” the tools to explore this great goal are now available.
The hidden epidemic
According to a wide-ranging international study, depression is the most disabling disease in the world:
- Nearly twenty percent of U.S. citizens experience some form of depression during their lifetime. Americans are taking so many antidepressants that, according to the New York Times, the water supplies of major U.S. cities are now contaminated with traces of these drugs.
- The problem is not limited to adults. The American Psychological Association reports that “as many as 9% of children will experience a major depressive episode by the time they are 14 years old, and 20% will experience a major depressive episode before graduating from high school.”
- Statistics show that children who have suffered from depression are more vulnerable to depression as adults. That’s the bad news. Now for the good new
The New Science of Happiness
Traditionally psychologists have focused their attentions on what makes depressed people depressed. Yet recently a small group of scientists has turned the question on its head. Now they are asking: “What makes happy people happy?” This Copernican shift in perspective has given rise to the new “science of happiness” During the last two decades, numerous studies by positive psychologists such as Ed Diener and Martin Seligman have tried to place the study of human well-being on a scientific foundation. Many of these studies have focused on small groups of “very happy people” and analyzed their lifestyles and personalities through questionnaires and interviews. They found that, to a certain extent, the happiness that people can intentionally generate through their thoughts and actions can compete with genetically acquired gloominess
The top line:
- People who have one or more close friendships appear to be happier.
- The sharing of personal feelings (self-disclosure) plays a major role in the relief of stress and depression.
- Listening carefully and responding in encouraging ways (Active-Constructive Responding) is a very effective way to cultivate positive emotions and deepen relationships.
In 2002, two pioneers of Positive Psychology, Ed Diener and Martin Seligman, conducted a study at the University of Illinois on the 10% of students with the highest scores recorded on a survey of personal happiness. They found that the most salient characteristics shared by students who were very happy and showed the fewest signs of depression were “their strong ties to friends and family and commitment to spending time with them.” (“The New Science of Happiness,” Claudia Wallis, Time Magazine, Jan. 09, 2005).
In one study people were asked on random occasions about their mood. They were found to be happiest with their friends, followed by family members, and least happy if they were alone (Larson, Mannell, & Zuzanek, 1986). Another study constructed a scale of cooperativeness, i.e. how willing people were to constructively engage in activities with others. This study showed that the cooperativeness of an individual was a predictor of their happiness, though it did not conclusively show if their cooperation resulted in happiness or the other way around (Lu & Argyle, 1991). A study on the quality of relationships found that to avoid loneliness, people needed only one close relationship coupled with a network of other relationships. To form a close relationship required a growing amount of “self-disclosure,” or a willingness to reveal ones personal issues and feelings, and without it people with friends would still be lonely (Jackson, Soderlind & Weiss, 2000, Horesh, Apter, 2006). A similar study found that some students who had many friends with whom they often spent time were still plagued by loneliness, and this seemed to be related to their tendency to talk about impersonal topics, such as sports and pop music, instead of their personal life (Wheeler). Having a good close social network at work and maintaining low marital distress also play a beneficial role in one’s happiness and life satisfaction (Ruesch et al. 2004; Smith et al 2012).
Listening carefully and responding in encouraging ways (Active-Constructive Responding) is a very effective way to cultivate positive emotions and deepen relationships. (Niederkrotenthaler, Gould, et al, 2016)
Happiness isn’t only gained from social support but may serve more beneficial by providing it (Brown et al. 2003). This study examined how providing social support influences well-being and mortality. It was discovered that the more support provided the greater the decrease in morality. We also lose a sense of meaning in our lives if we experience social exclusion and isolation (Stillman et al 2009). This particular study ran four distinct trials where the participant would be rejected or excluded by others. The researchers discovered that loneliness created lower levels of meaning and a greater increase in depression.
The top line: People who care for others’ well-being through acts of altruism, volunteering, or formation of communal relationships seem to be happier and less depressed. This seems to be especially true in older individuals.
Most people who care for others in a selfless manner do so because of a genuine desire to help and improve the world around them. Nonetheless, modern psychological research has shown that caring has benefits for all involved; people who volunteer or care for others on a consistent basis tend to have better psychological well-being, including fewer depressive symptoms and higher life-satisfaction. Caring behavior even has physiological benefits, as current research shows that individuals who receive social support (a form of caring behavior) are more protected from disease and even death (e.g., Broadhead et al., 1983).
Although “caring” can involve volunteering as part of an organized group or club, can be as simple as reaching out to a workmate or classmate who looks lonely or is struggling with an issue. Studies show that people who reach out like this can benefit in multiple ways. Some individuals care for others through acts of altruism and organized volunteering, while others prefer monetary donations and engagement in communal relationships. The majority of studies agree that there is a significant association between caring for other’s well-being and increased positive affect. Several studies have found that this correlation appears to be highest in older adults who participate in volunteer activities (Morrow-Howell et al., 2003; Wheeler et al., 1998).
The same level of correlation has not been found in younger adults as a whole. Yet, a subgroup of younger adults who engage in sustained volunteering over long periods of time do in fact have higher levels of psychological well-being (Wheeler et al., 1998). The authors of this study speculated that many young adults who volunteer for short periods of time may have been encouraged to volunteer by their schools or did so to boost their chances of getting into college. In contrast, older volunteers tend to cite moral responsibility. This suggests that “intrinsically motivated” volunteers, i.e. those who are more motivated for the sake of volunteering itself, feel more satisfaction than “extrinsically motivated” volunteers (Midlarsky, Kahana, 1993).
One more intriguing set of data reveals that the recipients of volunteer activities who were encouraged to participate or cooperate in some way, tended to experience greater happiness. In contrast to this, those who passively received the benefits did not become significantly happier, and in some cases became more depressed. As is true for other areas of research, it is considerably more difficult to prove that volunteering causes improved mental well-being than to simply identify an association between the two. At least one study, however, has attempted to do the former with a prospective, randomized trial (Yuen et al., 2008). The authors of this study randomly assigned a population of older adults into one of two groups: a group that volunteered for three months, and a control group that did not. At the end of the trial, the researchers found that those who volunteered scored higher on indices of mental well-being than those who did not. These effects persisted three months after the end of the trial, indicating that the benefits of volunteering may be long-lasting.
While volunteering is a heavily-cited example of caring behavior, current psychological research strives to understand the factors that drive certain individuals to be more caring than others. Do individuals with a highly-altruistic family tend to care more for the well-being of others? Or, could feelings of elevation, induced by witnessing another person do a good deed, motivate helping behavior? More broadly, how do cultural practices and beliefs influence caring behavior? The answers to these questions suggest that caring behavior is largely context-dependent, where social influences heavily influence how individuals care for each other’s well-being. For example, a 2001 study sought to understand the how cultural contexts influenced the caring behavior of British and Taiwanese college students. Results show that caring behavior manifests differently in cultures that value independence over interdependence and vice versa, where a balance of the two values leads to greatest levels of well-being
The top line: abundant scientific research demonstrates the close connection of the mind and body. Positive lifestyle factors including exercise, nutrition, sunlight, and sleep are associated with improved mental well-being and lower incidence of depression and anxiety.
Have you ever noticed that you feel great after going for a run? Do you love working out or playing sports on a regular basis? The vast majority of studies addressing this subject have shown that there is a significant association between exercise and improved mood and mental well-being. However, it has proven difficult to show that exercise directly causes these improvements. Are “happier people” simply more inclined to exercise or does exercise result in a more positive mood and greater mental well-being?
Researchers studying exercise have consistently found that it has a positive impact on mood. It has been proven that physical activity stimulates the release of “feel-good” chemicals in the brain, called endorphins (Fox, 1999). Some researchers argue that exercise acts as a diversion from negative thoughts (Smith, 2006). Others argue that exercise improves mood by virtue of the personal growth and goal attainment that results from efforts to master a physical skill (Ströhle, 2009). Furthermore, research evidence indicates that the social interaction involved in certain kinds of exercise (such as team sports) contributes to personal satisfaction and consequently, mood enhancement (Stubbe, 2007)
Exercise has also been studied as an alternative treatment to the traditional antidepressant medications and cognitive-behavioral therapies used for depression. The Cochrane Review (the most world-renowned review of its kind) has produced a landmark meta-analysis of studies on exercise and depression. Twenty-three studies were rigorously selected amongst a pool of over 100 studies. Based on collective evidence, it was concluded that exercise has a “large clinical impact” on depression.
Blumenthal et al. studied the effect of exercise on older adults experiencing clinical depression. They compared exercise to a commonly prescribed anti-depressant medication (Zoloft), and found that both treatments were equally effective in reducing depressive symptoms.
The jury still seems to be out in terms of whether or not exercise causes happiness and to what degree it has a positive impact on well-being compared to other factors. While we think the evidence supports exercise as being beneficial, we look forward to seeing new studies in this area in the upcoming years.
To date, there has been a relative paucity of research conducted on the effects of nutrition and diet on mental well-being. The few studies that have been published suggest that nutrition plays an important role in our mental acuity and well-being and that poor nutrition can negatively affect mental health.
Our diet consists of three major components: protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Fats play an extremely important role in the structure and function of the body. The unsaturated fats are further divided into several categories and include the Omega 3 and Omega 6 groups. In general, the Omega 3’s are anti-inflammatory and the Omega 6’s are pro-inflammatory. The American diet is relatively high in Omega 6’s and low in Omega 3’s; this leads to high levels of inflammatory disease in our population (Simopoulos, 2002). Whereas, the Mediterranean diet is relatively high in Omega 3’s and has been shown to reduce rates of Cardiovascular Disease by 30 percent (Schröder et al., 2014). Depression is associated with inflammation and it follows that decreasing inflammation by improving this balance can alleviate symptoms (Prior et al., 2012).
In a recent comprehensive meta-analysis, Grosse et al. (2014) confirmed that supplementation of Omega 3 fatty acids is an effective treatment in patients with depression. Omega 3’s also appear to have a direct effect on the brain. Evidence suggests that Omega 3’s may prevent the development of dementia, and that Omega 3’s have a role in the treatment of ADHD (Fares et al., 2014).
A study by Hakkarainen et al. in 2004 examined the impact of diet on the mental health of 29,133 older male smokers, who logged their daily meals. The researchers found that greater consumption of processed foods such as margarine and other junk foods with high levels of saturated fats and relatively low levels of Omega 3 fatty acids was associated with increased depression, anxiety, and insomnia. In addition, consider the anecdotal study conducted in the movie Fast Food Nation that demonstrated alarming health consequences for the one subject who ingested nothing but McDonald’s food for 30 days.
SUGAR is another nutritional factor that affects our mental and physical well-being. Sugar comes in many different forms, but any form of added sugar is generally unhealthy. Common forms of sugar include table sugar, beet sugar, honey, agave, high fructose corn syrup, and brown rice syrup (Tandel, 2011).
Sugar, as glucose, provides our body with a fast source of energy. However, too much sugar causes big problems. Sugar leads to direct stimulation of the brain by triggering the release of dopamine, the “feel good” neurotransmitter. In fact, sugar’s effect on the brain resembles that of highly addictive drugs like cocaine. This may explain why you crave something sweet (cookies, ice cream, etc.) when you get stressed, instead of craving broccoli (Barclay, 2014).
Consumption of simple sugars triggers a large and rapid release of insulin, a hormone that lowers blood sugar levels. This natural response makes you hungrier, slows down your metabolism, and increases your body’s storage of fats. Although fruits and veggies contain sugars, these sugars are complex and are not broken down as quickly and easily. Furthermore, these complex sugars are bound to fiber, which slows down their absorption and blunts the insulin response (Cocate et al., 2011).
Research indicates that reducing simple sugar intake can even improve ADHD symptoms (Johnson et al., 2011). In order to balance your blood sugar, doctors and nutritionists generally recommend combining healthy sources of protein (such as meats, eggs, or beans), fats (such as coconut oil, nuts, or avocado), and carbs (such as fruits, vegetables, or whole grains) with each meal (“Healthy Eating – Overview,” 2013).
Based on studies being conducted by Dr. Paul Desan at the Psychiatric Consultant Services at Yale-New Haven Hospital, we believe that light affects our mood. Based on questionnaires distributed throughout the year, most people in non-equatorial latitudes experience lower energy, depressed mood, increased sleepiness, and greater appetite, in the winter months as compared to the summer. Some individuals experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (‘SAD’), a form of clinical depression, during the winter. Afflicted individuals often benefit dramatically from exposure to bright light in the early morning, and such light treatment may be much more effective than antidepressant medications. SAD is relatively common and it is unfortunate that light treatment is seldom used.(reference)
Even if you do not suffer from SAD, adequate light exposure – especially early morning light exposure – is important to your well-being in the winter months. The further from the equator you live, the more important such light exposure is for your mental health
In addition to its direct benefits, sunlight allows us to make Vitamin D. This vitamin/hormone helps support our physical health in many ways, and has been shown to have a beneficial effect on depression comparable to that of anti-depressant medications (Spedding 2014).
Sleep is fundamental to our well-being and health. A large body of evidence supports the recommendation that adults should typically get eight hours of sleep per night. Research recently conducted at the University of Chicago revealed that sleep improves memory retention and learning new tasks (Harms, 2013). Another study by Smaldone et al. from 2007 examined the effects of sleep on well-being. The study consisted of 68,418 participants, including children and adolescents, who completed journal entries and questionnaires. The researchers found that inadequate sleep was associated with family issues, school troubles, physical problems, and depressive symptoms.
These findings are troubling because our increasingly fast-paced society and high-pressure school environments make it more challenging for us to get enough sleep each day. In fact, a 1960 survey by the American Cancer Society (including 1 million participants) concluded that the median amount of sleep at that time was 8 hours. Since 2008, this number has decreased to only 6.7 hours.
Sleep deprivation is associated with obesity and diabetes (Copinschi, 2005). Studies of sleep deprivation in healthy young adults indicate that it is associated with up to a 40% impairment in memory, thinking speed, reaction time, and cognitive ability (Killgore, 2010). Finally, sleep deprivation is associated with mood instability and leads to over-reactions and impairment of judgment (Motomura et al., 2013).
In conclusion, there is a great deal of supporting evidence that exercise, good nutrition, and sleep are associated with improved mental well-being and, in some cases, reduced depression and anxiety. Nevertheless, there is still controversy in the scientific community as to whether these three factors actually cause improved mental well-being, or whether those with greater mental well-being are simply more likely to exercise, sleep well, and maintain a balanced diet. The answer to this scientific argument may lie somewhere in the middle. As such, we encourage you to consider some practical tips (below) that can help you improve your physical and mental health.
The top line: If we are actively involved in trying to reach a goal, or an activity that is challenging but well suited to our skills, we experience a joyful state called “flow.” The experience of flow in both professional and leisure activities leads to increased positive affect, performance, and commitment to long-term, meaningful goals.
Do you ever find yourself so completely immersed in what you’re doing that you lose track of time? All of a sudden you look up at the clock and realize that hours have passed and you missed dinner time? Think a minute about this. When does this loss of time and total engagement typically occur for you? This could apply to a martial artist completely absorbed in perfecting a flying kick, or a violinist fiercely concentrating on a complex symphony. One may find still greater happiness working towards long-term, meaningful goals. Viktor Frankl, who survived a Nazi concentration camp, once said “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him.” (Frankl, 1992)
This loss of self-consciousness that happens when you are completely absorbed in an activity – intellectual, professional, or physical – is described in contemporary psychology as a state of flow. In order for a flow state to occur, you must see the activity as voluntary, enjoyable (intrinsically motivating), and it must require skill and be challenging (but not too challenging) with clear goals towards success. You must feel as though you have control and receive immediate feedback with room for growth. Interestingly, a flow state is characterized by the absence of emotion – a complete loss of self-consciousness –however, in retrospect, the flow activity may be described as enjoyable and even exhilarating!
A growing body of scientific evidence indicates that flow is highly correlated with happiness, both SWB (Subjective well-being) and PWB (Psychological well-being). Furthermore, it has been found that people who experience a lot of flow regularly also develop other positive traits, such as increased concentration, self-esteem, and performance.
One of the pioneers of the research on flow is Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, also one of the founders of positive psychology. Csikszentmihalyi began his research on flow by studying artists and creative types (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975). He noted that the act of creating seemed at times more important than the finished work itself and he was fascinated by what he called the “flow” state, in which the person is completely immersed in an activity with intense focus and creative engagement. He set his life’s work to scientifically identify the different elements involved in achieving such a state.
Csikszentmihalyi’s work has identified six factors of flow:
- Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
- Merging of action and awareness
- A loss of reflective self-consciousness
- A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
- A distortion of temporal experience
- Experience of the activity as intrinsicallyrewarding, also referred to asautotelic experience
The top line: the work of positive psychologists like Martin Seligman appears to show that the happiest people are those that have discovered their unique strengths (such as persistence and critical thinking) and virtues (such as humanity or justice) and use those strengths and virtues for a purpose that is greater than their own personal goals.
You may have had certain strengths that are so natural to you that you may not even consider them strengths. Think about an episode in your life when you were at your very best. What qualities enabled you to perform like that? While there are numerous talents and strengths that humans can possess, Character Strengths and Virtues are ones that humanity universally values. When Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson sought to discover and classify commonly held strengths and virtues across cultures, they created a classification of core virtues that humans morally value regardless of their cultural, racial, and religious differences. Take the VIA Signature Strengths questionnaire to determine your top three signature strengths: http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/Default.aspx (Note: you will have to register on the Authentic Happiness website first to take the test. This is a short form that should take only a few minutes to complete).
In addition to the VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire, there are also other strengths classifications, including: StrengthsFinder, the Virtues Project, and Realise 2. Each classification is unique and is based upon different studies of talents, virtues, or strengths.
Current research indicates that you are most likely to value a job, relationship, hobby or institution that aligns with your core signature strengths and allows you to regularly utilize them. In fact, research indicates that one of the best ways to boost your long-term happiness is to use your strengths in new ways and situations, rather than focusing on your weaknesses. For instance, a 2010 study of college students found that individuals who used their signature strengths made more progress in reaching their goals (and improving their well-being) (1). In addition, a seminal study in 2004 found that certain character strengths, including hope, zest, gratitude, love, and curiosity, show a stronger link to life satisfaction (2).
The use of strengths and virtues is therefore well in keeping with the philosophy of positive psychology: to focus on the positive in your life, not the negative!
People follow spiritual paths and join religious organizations for a variety of reasons, including faith, prayer, social support, community service, cultural tradition, friendship, commitment to the community and more. How often do you hear someone say that they committed to a religion or spiritual practice primarily to become happier? Perhaps not often. However, interestingly enough, studies demonstrate a close link between religious and spiritual engagement (practice) and happiness.
Scientists who study this phenomenon hypothesize several possible reasons for a link between religiosity, spirituality, and happiness. Religious organizations provide strong social support from like-minded people, providing various opportunities for socializing, community service and making friends with individuals from a common network.
Spirituality and prayer also provide people with an opportunity to engage in a meditative act. Meditation has been shown to have a strong link with well-being because it calms the body, reduces stress and anxiety, and also supports positive thinking. The cultivation of “sacred moments” in daily life, whether through journal-writing or daily spiritual exercises, has been associated with reduced levels of stress and an increase in psychological well-being. Finally, both spirituality and organized religion can help provide people with perspective, hope, and a deeper sense of meaning. By believing in something greater than themselves, it may help them stay positive in times of sadness, and foster resilience in its role as a coping strategy.
Generally, religiosity can be defined as one’s relationship with an established faith tradition or doctrine about a sacred other or supernatural power, while spirituality can often be defined as “the intrinsic human capacity for self-transcendence, in which the self is embedded in something greater than the self, including the sacred” and which motivates “the search for connectedness, meaning, purpose, and contribution.”1 However, these abstract ideas are measured in many different ways, from frequency of church attendance to asking people “how religious are you?” As for mental well-being and happiness, studies look at indicators of mental well-being, both negative (i.e. depression) and positive (i.e. self-reported happiness, self esteem, positive relationships with others). A recent survey of the studies (meta-analysis) examines the different definitions and measurements of religiosity/spirituality as well as mental effects.
A 2012 review of more than 326 peer-reviewed studies of mainly adult populations found that out of those 326 studies, 256 (79%) found only significant positive associations between religiosity/spirituality and well-being. The author postulated that the positive influence of religion or spirituality on well-being can be explained through a few key mechanisms, such as religion’s role as a coping strategy and as a support system for prosocial behaviors. In addition, religious beliefs can potentially alter the way individuals cognitively react to stressors, and often, the regulations of most faiths decrease the likelihood of individuals experiencing particularly stressful life events (such as divorce or incarceration) (2).
A 2010 study of adults found that independent of religious service attendance and congregation-based friendship, other subjective components of religion do not influence life satisfaction significantly. The authors thus note that the social networks that individuals build in their religious congregations are responsible for mediating most of the effects of service attendance on life satisfaction (3).
One important point about the studies is that, even though most researchers say they are looking at the “effect” of religion on mental well-being, the vast majority only show that religious and spiritual people report higher levels of happiness and mental well-being. This means that good mental well-being might predispose people to religious involvement or vice versa. To look at whether religiosity/spirituality causes better mental well-being, scientists must study people over a long period of time.
Optimism is a trait that should become more common, judging by Winston Churchill’s famous quote that “a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Optimism has been proven to improve the immune system, prevent chronic disease, and help people cope with unfortunate news. Gratitude is associated with optimism and has been determined that grateful people are happier, receive more social support, are less stressed, and are less depressed. Recent research indicates that optimists and pessimists approach problems differently, and their ability to cope successfully with adversity differs as a result.
Martin Seligman defines optimism as reacting to problems with a sense of confidence and high personal ability. Specifically, optimistic people believe that negative events are temporary, limited in scope (instead of pervading every aspect of a person’s life), and manageable. Of course, optimism, like other psychological states and characteristics, exists on a continuum. People can also change their levels of optimism depending on the situations they are in. For simplicity’s sake, the studies discussed herein will talk about people at the higher end of the spectrum as optimists and people on the lower end as pessimists. This section will review what is known about the benefits of optimism and evidence suggesting optimism is a learnable skill.
Of all the areas studied in the relatively young field of positive psychology, gratitude has perhaps the widest body of research. Grateful people have been shown to have greater levels of positive affect, a greater sense of belonging, and lower levels of depression and stress. Furthermore, efforts to make people more grateful have their own benefits.
The great Roman orator Cicero wrote, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” Indeed, all of us can think of times in our lives when we’ve expressed heartfelt thanks to others for gifts of time and effort. Being grateful feels good. Gratitude, the state or feeling of being thankful, is an almost universal concept among world cultures. In fact, nearly all of the world’s spiritual traditions emphasize the importance of giving thanks to benefactors, supernatural or otherwise (Emmons & Crumpler, 2000†). Robert Emmons, a leader in the field of gratitude research, defines gratitude as the feeling that occurs when a person attributes a benefit they have received to another (Emmons, 2004). Feeling grateful has a number of benefits. Feelings of gratitude are associated with less frequent negative emotions and more frequent positive emotions such as feeling energized, alert, and enthusiastic (McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang, 2002). Beyond emotions, there is evidence that gratitude is associated with pleasant physical sensations, as well. Algoe and Haidt (2009) found that people experienced pleasant muscle relaxation when recalling situations in which they’d felt grateful. It is apparent that the mere act of giving thanks can have remarkable impact on a person’s well-being.
Taking time to appreciate your mother for all the care she provided growing up; reconnecting with an old friend to express your gratitude for always being there for you; seeking out and thanking a favorite teacher who helped you grow – specific acts of gratitude can have a variety of positive consequences, but what about people who are more grateful by nature than others? Given the centrality of thanksgiving in religious traditions, grateful people tend to be more spiritual than their less-grateful counterparts. People who are generally grateful report being more agreeable and less narcissistic compared with less grateful people. People who are more grateful also report being happier (Watkins, Woodward, Stone, & Kolts, 2003).