You’re independent and capable. Asking for help isn’t always easy. But the next time someone does you a favor, try expressing gratitude. You’ll love the results.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Psychology at University of California, Riverside, has done extensive research on gratitude, and the topic is part of her book “The How of Happiness.” She says people who write five things they’re grateful for once each week or write gratitude letters to those they appreciate are happier, more optimistic and more connected to others. She emphasizes that a gratitude letter is different from a thank-you note.
“Often, thank-you notes are written out of duty. A gratitude letter involves writing paragraphs or pages of what’s making you feel grateful for this person, thing or situation. You elaborate upon what you’re grateful for; it’s more powerful than thank-you notes,” Dr. Lyubomirsky says.
Here are some ways to express gratitude:
- Write a gratitude email or letter. It doesn’t matter whether you send it. Dr. Lyubomirsky says this activity makes you feel content and improves your mood because it can help you appreciate your relationships.
- Keep a gratitude journal. List what you’re grateful for—with feeling.
- Turn to technology. Download “Live Happy,” an iPhone app based on Dr. Lyubomirsky’s book. You can perform happiness-increasing exercises, including expressing gratitude. Select friends and family members in your contact list, and send them words of appreciation. Or jot down what you’re grateful for in a digital journal. The application measures how much these activities increase your happiness.
READ MORE: How to Keep a Journal
“When you use these mechanisms, they can make you feel more charitable and generous. Expressing gratitude has been shown to prevent people from taking things for granted,” Dr. Lyubomirsky says.
Dr. Art Markman, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin and YouBeauty Psychology Advisor, says expressing gratitude can be a means of coping when facing difficulties.
- First, gratitude can break or suppress a bad mood. “When you’re feeling down, you tend to dwell on depressing memories. Thinking about what you’re grateful for lets you bring to mind happier parts of your life,” Dr. Markman says.
- Second, gratitude can change your motivation. “Tough times cause stress. Focusing on good things in life can help you approach your goals with a positive attitude rather than trying to avoid bad situations,” he says.
To see positive results from expressing gratitude, you have to find the best way to work it into your life. Whether it’s once a week or every day, you have to determine the frequency that’s right for you.
“Expressing gratitude should be enjoyable and feel natural; it shouldn’t feel like a chore. It should fit your personality, goals and lifestyle,” she says.