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June 2012 - Happier Human

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15

Spirituality for the Irreligious – Getting the Benefits Outside the Cathedral

I’m an atheist in the fullest sense. Anything that can’t be touched, seen, smelled, heard, tasted, studied or measured I do not believe in.

I really wish that wasn’t the case. No, I’m not asking you to convert me. Let me save you the trouble, it’s impossible.

But Being Religious is Awesome

In a survey of Americans between 1972 and 2008, 26% of those who never attend religious services reported being “very happy.” On the other hand, 48% of those who attend services more than weekly reported being “very happy.”1

That’s almost double. That is a huge huge difference. Personality factors, income, and demographics don’t even come close.

Why?

  1. The social support provided by a religious community is unmatched by all other modern institutions.
  2. Spirituality is highly correlated with increased feelings of gratitude, respect, and optimism.
  3. Religion provides purpose and meaning in life.

Each of the elements identified above are in turn highly correlated with well-being and happiness. That is why, in all honesty, I am in some ways jealous of my spiritual and religious friends. But enough complaining.

There has to be something for those of us that are not that religious that can create those benefits.

The social support provided by a religious community is unmatched by all other modern institutions.

And it is likely to stay that way for decades, centuries, or more.

At a high level, the four components which make religious communities social capital generators are: trust (e.g. “being in a cathedral builds up my sense of trust in other people”), bonding (e.g. “being in the cathedral helps me to make friends”), bridging (e.g. “being in the cathedral helps me to meet new people and contribute to community life”), and linking (e.g. “I have met important people through my involvement in the cathedral).2

Each of those individual components can be found elsewhere, but never as strong.

  • The level of trust you have of others in your congregation will be much stronger than your trust of those at your book club or dinner parties.
  • Bonding opportunities at your workplace may exist, but the primary function of work is to work, not bond.
  • Volunteering can help you meet new people and contribute to community life, but in my experience religious groups get more done, have more enthusiasm for their cause, and form stronger relationships with one another and those whom they meet.
  • It’s possible to network with community leaders or powerful bankers, but the interaction just isn’t the same as when it’s between two equals in church, under the eyes of God.
There have been many attempts by secular organizations to adopt some of these elements. To my knowledge, failure or partial success have been the only outcomes. Please tell me if I’m wrong.

Spirituality is highly correlated with increased feelings of gratitude, respect, and optimism.

On this component, I have hope.

  1. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude through secular practice generates increasing feelings of respect and optimism.3
  2. Cultivating an attitude of optimism through secular practice generates increased feelings of gratitude and respect.
  3. Cultivating self-respect by actively changing your behavior and social assets to be worthy of your respect generates increased feelings of gratitude and optimism.
It’s a fantastic positive feedback loop.

The ordering is intentional – it is easier to cultivate an attitude of gratitude than one of optimism, which in turn is easier than cultivating authentic self-respect.

Yes, church and God make cultivating each of those components much easier, but even without them it can be done.

By me, it will be done.

Religion provides purpose and meaning in life.

It really does. But there are other ways. They are more difficult, but science is starting to identify the elements that give rise to vital engagement, passion, purpose, and meaning.4

The four criteria I’ve identified so far, which apply to work and hobbies alike, are:

  • Frequent opportunities to enter into a state of flow.
  • Frequent opportunities to use and develop your strengths.
  • Frequent opportunities to develop social connections.
  • Frequent opportunities to act in alignment with your values and beliefs.

Some hobbies and jobs won’t contain those opportunities. There is a reason only half of lawyers report being satisfied with their jobs.5 Working long hours doing menial work in defense of causes they don’t believe in is no recipe for finding meaning in work.

For those of us not looking to change jobs or find a new hobby, there are ways to increase our exposure to those opportunities.

Two out of three is better than zero. 
 

This is post  19 of the Month of Happiness. Check out the rest!

Day 1: Psychostimulants: They might give you happiness; they might give you a heart attack
Day 2: How to Harness the Power of Laughter: An Easy, Effective, and Infinite Source of Joy
Day 3:  Three Good Things, A Small Gratitude Exercise for a Large Boost of Happiness
Day 4: The Right Way to Fake a Smile For Health and Happiness
Day 5: Emotional Contagion: 5 Ways to Get Your Environment to Work for You
Day 6: Ditch Porn – It’s Playboy on (Dopamine Draining) Steroids
Day 7: Why I “Remain” an Introvert, Though the Science Suggests Extroverts are Happier
Day 8: Yoga – It Isn’t Just for Female Hipsters
Day 9: Watch More TV; It Makes You Happy!
Day 10: Kaizen: Accomplishing Big Goals with Tiny Steps
Day 11: Omega-3 Supplementation – Good For The Heart & Vitamin Shoppe’s Bottom Line
Day 12: Good Sleep: Not Optional for Happiness and High Performance
Day 13: One Tab at a Time: 7 Tips to Browse the Web More Mindfully
Day 14: Optimism, The Blind Man’s Gamble
Day 15: A Story of Change, The 5 Willpower Techniques That Create Action
Day 16: Zest, The Spice of Life… or is it?
Day 17: Exercise: Better than Zoloft
Day 18: Relaxation: The Magic Tonic That Cures Headaches & Relieves Indigestion
Day 19: Spirituality for the Irreligious – Getting the Benefits Outside the Cathedral
Day 20: Meditation – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Beautiful

 

References

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206

The Science of Gratitude: More Benefits Than Expected; 26 Studies and Counting

Gratitude has for most of its history remained a discussion topics of pastors. As a growing field of science is starting to show, the benefits of cultivating an attitude of gratitude are very real and can be enjoyed outside a religious context.

This page summarizes at a high level the prominent research in the field, and provides a link to full studies where available.

Emotion and Social Context: An American—German Comparison

20% of American adults rated gratitude as a constructive and useful emotion, compared to 50% of Germans. 10% of Americans responded that they “regularly and often” experience the emotion of gratitude, as compared to 30% of Germans.

Date & Journal:     1988, British Journal of Social Psychology
Authors:                  Shula Sommers and Corinne Kosmitzki
Sample size:           105 American and 40 German adults

Abstract here.

Is Gratitude a Moral Affect?

Authors establish gratitude as a moral affect . “We are…proposing … that gratitude typically results from and stimulates moral behavior, that is, behavior that is motivated out of concern for another person… We liken gratitude to other moral affects such as empathy, sympathy, guilt, and shame.” This proposal is supported with the four following hypotheses:

  1. Gratitude is used as a moral barometer, in that it is used to emotionally feel the size and nature of a gift from another. The supporting studies cited showed that people are more likely to feel gratitude towards: acts done by strangers than family members, larger acts than smaller acts, more inconvenient acts, acts that confer benefits which themselves are not necessary because of a situation caused by the benefactor, people with higher status, and people who were generally nicer. People were also significantly more likely to feel gratitude when their declaration of gratitude would be public.
  2. Gratitude is used as a moral motive – that is, it encourages pro-social behavior, and discourages societaly disruptive behavior. Three studies cited showed that those who felt gratitude were more likely to help others.
  3. Expressions of gratitude reinforce moral behavior. This is supported through multiple studies, all which show that expressions of gratitude encourage pro-social behavior in the future. For example, thanking case managers induced greater visitation, greater volunteerism, helping a stranger pick up dropped books, and spending more at a store. The noted exception is that humans have a built in defense mechanism against overt attempts to use expressions of gratitude for greedy reasons (e.g. to get customers to spend more money). In addition, one referenced study showed that an expression of gratitude colors the recipients emotional valance of the benefactor and events sounding their interaction towards a more positive light.
  4.  Gratitude can be correlated with certain personality traits. This is proven only half true – only agreeableness is shown to be positively correlated with gratitude (and narcissism negatively correlated). Unexpectedly, extroversion, conscientiousness and neuroticism had nearly no correlation with gratitude.

Date & Journal:     2001, Psychological Bulletin
Authors:                  Michael E. McCullough, Shelley D. Kilpatrick, Robert A. Emmons, David B. Larson

Full study here.

The Grateful Disposition: A Conceptual and Empirical Topography

Authors explored what emotional states and personality factors give rise to gratitude through four studies.

They first define four dimensions of gratitude: intensity, frequency, span, and density.

  • Intensity: The depth of the feeling, from a slight emotional tug to overflowing tears.
  • Frequency: The ease with which grateful feelings are elicited.
  • Span: The number of different things for which a person can be grateful for at the same time.
  • Density: The number of different people for which a person can be grateful for a single positive outcome.
In the first study, a wide range of personality factors were tested against the GQ-6, a measure of gratitude.In addition to information collected from each participant, information was collected from four informants who knew each subject well.

Measures of well-being had the strongest correlation with gratitude, oftentimes greater than .5 (as seen in the table to the right). Pro-social traits and measures of spirituality were also correlated with gratitude (~.15 to .30).

The personality trait of agreeableness had the strongest positive correlation with gratitude, of .39, while neuroticism had the strongest (and only) negative correlation, of -.30.

The second study measured similar factors and traits, but was different in two regards. First, it was much larger, with six times the sample size (n=1,228). Second, rather than the usual college student, participants were adults, 80% female, and contacted through the web.

The results were similar to those of study 1, with the notable difference that most of the correlations were stronger (e.g. .32 for extroversion vs. .2 and .53 for spiritual transcendence vs. .24).

The third study was similar to the first one, except that materialism and envy were also measured (Belk Materialism Scale and Dispositional Envy Scale).

Materialism and envy had strong negative correlations with measures of gratitude. The materialism sub-scales had negative correlations ranging from -.07 to -.38, and the envy scale of -.39.

“Grateful people report themselves as being less materialist and less envious. In particular, grateful people report being more willing to part with their possessions, more generous with them, less envious of the material wealth of others, less committed to the idea that material wealth brings happiness. Apparently, material success is not a very important factor in the happiness of highly grateful people.”

The fourth study combined the data from the first three studies, and attempted to isolate individual correlations. For example, extroversion and agreeableness are both correlated with gratitude, but they are also both correlated with each other.

After controlling for agreeableness, the magnitude of nearly all correlations fell. Overall, the Big Five personality traits combined could account for 30%-50% of the overall variation in a person’s level of gratitude.

Date & Journal:     2002, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
Authors:                  Michael E. McCullough, Robert A. Emmons, Jo-Ann Tsang
Sample size:           Study 1 – 238; Study 2 – 1,228; Study 3 – 156

Fully study here.

Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life

Authors conducted three studies.

In the first study, subjects were asked to complete a weekly gratitude journal, weekly burdens journal, or a weekly neutral journal for nine weeks.

Gratitude Condition:

There are many things in our lives, both large and small, that we might be grateful about. Think back over the past week and write down on the lines below up to five things in your life that you are grateful or thankful for.

Burdens Condition:

Hassles are irritants—things that annoy or bother you. They occur in various domains of life, including relationships, work, school, housing, finances, health, and so forth. Think back over today and, on the lines below, list up to five hassles that occurred in your life.

Despite the extreme infrequency of the journaling, there were still significant results.

The grateful group reported increased well-being, had better health, exercised more (~40 min./week), felt life was better (~8% better), and had increased optimism (~5% more).

In the second study,  subjects were asked to complete a daily gratitude journal, daily burdens journal, or a downward social comparisons journal for two weeks.

Gratitude & Burdens Condition same as in study 1 (except daily instead of weekly).

Downward Social Comparison Condition:

It is human nature to compare ourselves to others. We may be better off than others in some ways, and less fortunate than other people in other ways. Think about ways in which you are better off than others, things that you have that they don’t, and write these down in the spaces below.

As expected, there was a stronger response due to the increased frequency of the journaling.

Perhaps because of the reduced duration (2 weeks vs 9), or perhaps because the first result was a fluke, there was no significant impact of the gratitude intervention on measured health variables (e.g. hours of exercise, sleep quality, asprin, caffeine, and alcohol usage). However, those in the gratitude group did report increased pro-social behavior (offering emotional support and help with a problem).

In the third study, all subjects chosen had a neuromuscular disease (as compared to the usual healthy college student). In addition, there were only two groups – a gratitude group with the same instructions as before, and a control group. The study was extended to three weeks, and and reports were collected from the subject’s closest relationship, to see if changes were observable to more than the subjects internal narrative.

The impact on well-being, optimism and social connectedness was similar to in studies 1 and 2. Similar to in study 2, there was no impact on measured health variables. However, there was one exception – subjects in the gratitude condition reported getting half an hour more sleep (7.58 hrs.) as compared to the control (7.06). These changes were noticed on the reports by the subject’s closest relationship.

Date & Journal:     2003, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
Authors:                  Michael E. McCullough, Robert A. Emmons
Sample size:           Study 1 – 192; Study 2 – 157; Study 3 – 65

Full study here.

Gratitude and Happiness: Development of a Measure of Gratitude, and Relationships With Subjective Well-Being (2003, P C Watkins, K Woodward, T Stone, R L Kolts)

http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/pdfs/GratitudePDFs/5Watkins-GratitudeHappiness.pdf

Gratitude in Intermediate Affective Terrain: Links of Grateful Moods to Individual Differences and Daily Emotional Experience

Authors conducted two studies, first providing a conceptual overview of the three definitions of gratitude:

  1. Gratitude as an (affective) trait:  A built in, personality level trait which determines how often and deeply we feel gratitude.
  2. Gratitude as a mood: Gratitude as a singular emotion lasts for only a few seconds. To explain how gratitude inducing interventions like a gratitude journal work, rather than changing our personality trait, they instead induce a mood of gratitude, which in turn gives rise to more gratitude emotions.
  3. Gratitude as an emotion: The actual positive emotions which recognize the intentional, beneficial actions of others – lasts only a few seconds.  

These two studies explored the relationship between the three levels of gratitude: trait, mood, and emotion.

In the first study, adults with a neuromuscular disease were used as subjects. Subjects were given a battery of surveys, and at the end of each night were asked to describe, on a 1 to 5 scale, the extent to which they felt a variety of emotions that day. That is, this was a three week observational study. This study wished to explore which life traits and circumstances could be used to predict the subject’s mean level of gratitude over the course of the study. The table on the right provides the results:

  1. The initial self-report measure of gratitude (GQ-12) was extremely predictive of how much gratitude the subject would feel over the next three weeks, with a correlation of .72.
  2. Depression was also extremely predictive, with a correlation of -.68.
  3. Measures of spirituality were highly predictive, with a correlation of .60.
  4. Given that these subjects were not in a social stimulating environment, extraversion had a high correlation of .54.
  5. Positive and negative affectivity had an asymmetric relationship, with positive affect three times as predictive as negative affect.
  6. Optimism had a strong correlation of .40. This is part causality and part correlation. In one gratitude intervention, participants showed an increase in optimism. However, the increase was not as large as .40.

Study 2 was similar, except that healthy college students were used as subjects, it was for 2 weeks rather than 3, and more questions were given.

This study uncovered four characteristics of gratitude that study one did not.

  1. Of the many religious variables collected (quest orientation, intrinsic/extrinsic religious orientation, religious interest, etc…) only self-transcendence had a strong correlation with mean levels of experienced gratitude (r=.49).  Looking at the questions that make up the self-transcendence sub-scale, this makes sense.
  2. Empathic concern had the highest correlation yet, of any study on gratitude so far (r=.84). It is unclear what makes the correlation so large and which way causality is working (if it all).
  3. Agreeableness had a correlation of .53, similar to but larger than the results of study one, but extroversion had a correlation of only .16, one-fourth of prior results. This is likely because the subjects are different – the authors suggest that because college subjects are already in a rich social environment, agreeableness rather than extroversion is the more relevant trait.

This study also analyzed the correlation between the different dimensions of gratitude (density, frequency, intensity, and span) with experienced mood gratitude.

The results suggest that a grateful disposition interacts with daily emotional experience through what the authors call the resistance hypothesis.

For those with a high level of trait gratitude, the frequency of gratitude inducing events, as well as their density (the number of different people for which a person can be grateful for a single positive outcome) were not significantly correlated with experienced gratitude (r=.21 & r=.22); only the mean intensity (the depth of the feelings) was significantly predictive (r=.61).

On the other side, for those with a low level of trait gratitude, frequency, density, as well as intensity were all significantly correlated with experienced gratitude (r=.72, r=.58, and r=.59).

This suggests that those that are dispositionally grateful self-generate their grateful moods and emotion, and need an extra intense dose of induced gratitude to increase the valence of their grateful mood. Said differently, “the amount of gratitude in their daily moods is determined so thoroughly by personality processes that their moods are resistant to the effects of gratitude-relevant daily life events and their discrete emotional responses to these daily events.

In contrast, because those with a low trait gratitude already experience so little gratitude, their mood gratitude is highly reactive to gratitude-relevant daily life events.

This information suggests that those with different levels of trait gratitude would be best able to increase their levels of gratitude through different means.

Date & Journal:     2004, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
Authors:                  Michael E. McCullough, Robert A. Emmons, Jo-Ann Tsang
Sample size:           Study 1 – 96; Study 2 – 112

Full study here.

Positive Psychology Progress 

A one time act of thoughtful gratitude produced an immediate 10% increase in happiness and 35% reduction in depressive symptoms, but the effects disappeared within six months and three months, respectively.

On the other hand, instructing participants to write down three things that went well and their causes every night for one week had a long-lasting impact.

After one week, participants were 2% happier than before, but in follow-up tests, their happiness kept on increasing, from 5% at one month, to 9% at six months. All this, even though they were only instructed to journal for one week. Participants enjoyed the exercise so much, that they just kept on doing it on their own.

Date & Journal:     2005, American Psychologist
Authors:                  Martin Seligman, Tracy A. Steen, Nansook Park, Christopher Peterson
Sample size:           150

Abstract here.

Is Gratitude an Alternative to Materialism?

Authors explore the connection between gratitude and materialism.

Materialism: “A persistent emphasis on lower-order needs for material comfort and physical safety over higher-order needs such as self expression and quality of life.”

Materialism has been shown to harm psychological well-being, and so is a losing strategy for the individual. However, materialism in others may be beneficial, as it encourages entrepreneurship and GDP growth, and encourages wealth and status signaling (e.g. in person you may not be able to tell that Warren Buffet is exceptionally rich, given his reputation for not being materialistic, but in front of most other rich people – they will make the effort to make sure you know that they are rich).

The authors then explore two development routes which give rise to the personality trait of materialism:

  1. Insecurity. Those who have not had “their basic psychological needs met – needs such as safety, competence, connectedness, and autonomy” are more likely to be materialistic. Three examples in particular are those who have high self-doubt, those who come from poor families, and those whose who had parents which failed to provide requisite levels of emotional support.
  2. Role models. Quite sadly, Americans are inundated with materialistic role models, every single day. From advertisements which highlight materialistic themes to celebrity culture which glorifies the rich and frivolous, to business culture in which we are told our dreams should be to be rich and powerful.

The evidence is clear – while economic motivation is a prerequisite for a stable life (e.g. the unemployed have higher rates of depression), high economic motivation (e.g. materialism) is strongly correlated with reduced well-being and increased rates of mental disorder.

The authors then make the case that gratitude and materialism are inversely related.  

In one study, (McCullough 2002) those who had a high level of gratitude as a personality trait were much more likely to have below-average levels of materialism.  Polak 2005 showed the same results.

Lerner and Ketlner (2000, 2001) show that gratitude focuses our attention on others (e.g. instead of believing we control our fate, we start looking at others as agents of change in our lives). Furthermore, gratitude shifts the color of that focus to the positive – not only are others effecting us, but they are doing so in a positive way. This in turn gives the impression that one is surrounded by benevolent agents, which itself destroys insecurity, which is one of the primary drivers behind materialism.

The last argument the authors bring up is that those who are more grateful are more social, and so not only perceive the environment to be more benevolent, but actually make it so by helping others more frequently and accumulating social capital.

Date & Journal:     2006, Journal of Happiness Studies
Authors:                  Emily L. Polak, Michael E. McCullough

Full study here.

Positive Responses to Benefit and Harm: Bringing Forgiveness and Gratitude into Cognitive Psychotherapy

Authors summarize current state of gratitude research as it can be applied to psychotherapy.

They first argue that focusing on victimization, blame, and negative emotions harms both physical and mental well-being. The cite about a dozen studies which support that argument. They then make the more controversial claim that forgiveness improves physical and mental well-being.  Several studies are mentioned which offer the hope of promising results: both imagined and real forgiveness improved cardiovascular and sympathetic nervous system functioning in four studies. In one, forgiveness also lowered amounts of cortisol.

Several mechanisms are suggested through which forgiveness produces positive results (e.g. preservation of close relationships, increased optimistic thinking, a blocking out and replacement of negative emotions, etc…).

They then suggest several mechanisms which explain and could be used to induce forgiveness, citing a meta-analysis which found that forgiveness interventions, on average, increases participant’s forgiveness scores by 43%. These mechanisms are: empathy for the transgressor, recognition of one’s own flaws and shortcomings, generous attributions and appraisals for the transgressor’s behavior, and rumination about the transgression.

Finally, the authors explore why and how best to help patients experience gratitude. The how has been extensively covered elsewhere on this page.

First, of all the possible ways of recalling grateful events (e.g. gratitude journal, writing an essay, thinking, etc…), thinking had the strongest impact; however, all ways produced positive results. The authors suggest thinking was the most powerful because, “writing an essay or a letter of gratitude on demand may have disrupted the experience of positive affect.”

Second, the authors provide a number of additional ways that gratitude can be cultivated. Because of its high information value, this text is copied in its entirety rather than summarized:

“Research has also shown that gratitude or thankfulness can be increased as a function of interventions designed for other purposes. For example, meditation can promote gratitude as a quality of mindfulness (Shapiro, Schwartz, & Santerre, 2002), progressive muscle relaxation can help produce increased feelings of love and thankfulness (Khasky & Smith, 1999), and merely imagining being forgiven by one’s victim can increase feelings of gratitude, presumably by making one grateful for being given the gift of forgiveness (Witvliet, Ludwig, & Bauer, 2002).

These studies demonstrate that interventions aimed at increasing one’s focus on the relationship between mind and body can also help engender grateful mindsets in people. In fact, a particular type of psychotherapy originating in Japan, known as Naikan therapy, orchestrates all of the above techniques so as to expand clients’ awareness of their moral relationships with others (in terms of giving, receiving, and hurting) and aims to induce in clients a strong sense of gratitude to people who have provided them with benefits (Hedstrom, 1994; Reynolds, 1983).”

Date & Journal:     2006, Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy
Authors:                  Giacomo Bono, Michael E. McCullough

Full study here.

Gratitude: The parent of all virtues (2007,  Wood, A. M., Joseph, S., & Linley, P. A)

Is an easy to read, informative review of the state of the field; no new hypotheses or research.

Full study here.

Coping Style as a Psychological Resource of Grateful People (2007,  Wood, A. M., Joseph, S., & Linley, P. A)

Full study here.

Gratitude uniquely predicts satisfaction with life: Incremental validity above the domains and facets of the five factor model (2008, Wood, A. M., Joseph, S., & Maltby, J.)

Full study here.

Conceptualizing Gratitude and Appreciation as a Unitary Personality Trait (2008, Wood, A. M., Maltby, J., Stewart, N., & Joseph, S.)

Full study here.

A Social–Cognitive Model of Trait and State Levels of Gratitude (2008, Wood, A. M., Maltby, J., Stewart, N., Linley, P. A., & Joseph, S.)

Full study here.

An Adaptation for Altruism? The Social Causes, Social Effects, and Social Evolution of Gratitude

Authors explore the social causes, social effects, and social evolution of gratitude.

They first explore three different pro-social functions gratitude can provide:

  • As a benefit detector: “Gratitude is responsive to four types of information about the benefit-giving situation:
(a) the benefit’s costliness to the benefactor
(b) its value to the beneficiary
(c) the intentionality with which it was rendered, and
(d) the extent to which it was given even without relational obligations to help (for example, parents’ obligations to help their children).”
  • As a reinforcer of pro-social behavior: “Expressions of gratitude (for example, saying ‘‘thanks’’) increase the likelihood that benefactors will behave prosocially again in the future.” This has been borne in a several studies, and cab be easily confirmed in personal experience – we are much less likely to help those that do not appreciate our efforts.
  • As a motivator of pro-social behavior: Feelings of gratitude encourage reciprocation on the part of the recipient. This too is suggested by the results of several studies: those who have higher trait gratitude are more likely to be helpful, and those that implement a gratitude journal are more likely to help others.
They then discuss the differences between gratitude and indebtedness/obligation.
“Obligation feels negative and uncomfortable, whereas gratitude is usually associated with contentment and well-being.”

The authors also cite several studies which show that gratitude predicts request compliance, whereas indebtedness may not. The difference is that gratitude is felt in return for kindness freely given, while indebtedness is felt when help is given with the explicit understanding of being re-paid later.

The authors finish by discussing two hypotheses which explain how gratitude evolved.

  1. As a mechanism of reciprocal altruism. The most interesting piece of supporting evidence is that we feel significantly more gratitude in response to the acts of strangers than family members. As altruism by its nature is meant to help strangers, not those with whom we share DNA, gratitude excludes family members. This is disheartening, because it suggests that experiencing gratitude for family members on a regular basis requires fighting our biology.
  2. As a mechanism of upstream reciprocity. Said simply, the reason why we often “pay it forward”; why those who are mentored are more likely to in turn become a mentor. The evolutionary advantage of paying it forward is clear – a level of knowledge transfer and guidance which often cannot be found through close familial or economic relationships. Still, it is unclear how the feeling of gratitude is displaced from the benefactor to others.

Date & Journal:     2008, Current Directions in Psychological Scienec
Authors:                  Michael E. McCullough, Marcia B. Kimeldorf, Adam D. Cohen

Full study here.

Gratitude practices: a key to resiliency, well-being & happiness (2008, Paula Szloboda)

The role of gratitude in the development of social support,stress, and depression: Two longitudinal studies (2008, Wood, A. M., Joseph, S., & Maltby, J.)

Full study here.

Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Well-Being: The Mediating Role of Affect and Beliefs (2008, Loren Toussaint, Philip Friedman)

http://www.mendeley.com/research/forgiveness-gratitude-and-wellbeing-the-mediating-role-of-affect-and-beliefs/

Gratitude, subjective well-being and the brain (2008, Robert A Emmons)

http://www.mendeley.com/research/gratitude-subjective-wellbeing-brain-1/

Gratitude Influences Sleep Through the Mechanism of Pre-Sleep Cognitions (2009, Wood, A. M., Joseph, S., Lloyd, J., & Atkins, S.)

Full study here.

Gratitude predicts psychological well-being above the Big Five facets (2009,  Gratitude uniquely predicts satisfaction with life: Incremental validity above the domains and facets of the Five Factor Model.)

Full study here.

Letters of Gratitude : Improving Well-Being through Expressive Writing (2009, Steven M Toepfer, Kathleen Walker)

http://www.mendeley.com/research/letters-gratitude-improving-wellbeing-through-expressive-writing/

Why Gratitude Enhances Well-Being: What We Know, What We Need to Know (2010,  Emmons, R. A., Mishra, A.)

http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/Labs/PWT/Image/emmons/file/16_Sheldon_Chapter-16-1%5B1%5D.pdf

Gratitude, gratitude intervention and subjective well‐being among Chinese school teachers in Hong Kong (2010, David W Chan)

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01443410903493934

Forgiveness and gratitude as predictors of elderly subjective well-being (2011, Laurie E Scheidle)

http://www.mendeley.com/research/forgiveness-gratitude-predictors-elderly-subjective-wellbeing/

Studies that will be found and added 

  • Study that “gratitude enhances the retrievability of positive experiences by increasing elaboration of positive information”
  • Gratitude vs criticism for employee motivation
  • Gratitude & marriages
  • Gratitude improving decision making and creative problem solving of physicians
4

Relaxation: The Magic Tonic That Cures Headaches & Relieves Indigestion

Do you have a hobby or activity that relaxes you ? 

I’m not talking TV relax – I’m talking dissolving muscle aches and destroying headaches relax.

I’m not talking unwind or vegetate – I’m talking parasympathetic nervous system activation, slower breathing, and alpha waves.

For the past eight years, I didn’t – I suffered from untreatable headaches.

They were a constant companion. So constant that I was once diagnosed with idiopathic hypersomnia and prescribed GHB for my sleep (also known as the date rape drug).

Hypersomnia is a disorder characterized by excessive sleepiness, extended sleep time in a 24-hour cycle, and the inability to achieve the feeling of refreshment that usually comes from sleep.

The assumption was that my hypersomnia arose from poor sleep. That assumption was wrong – the true cause was a combination of biological sensitivity and intractable stress.

It’s still a problem – I can sleep for 14 hours and still not feel refreshed, naps make me feel like crap, and at almost any time of the day I can fall asleep in less than 30 seconds.

My headaches have been a virus, selfishly sapping away my life energy. They were mild enough that I could still function at a high level, but constant enough that I rarely felt fully alive.

I tried acupuncture, chiropracty, trigger point release, hypnosis, deep breathing, drugs, drugs, and drugs, exercise, meditation, stretching, and much more.

None of it worked – traditional and nontraditional alike.

Five months ago, I was listening to a song that I really liked – I ended up putting it on a loop and listening to it continuously for a few hours. At first I did what I always do when I listen to music: something else. Then, as the music started to capture my emotions, I started doing what I do when I listen to truly powerful music: I activated my imagination.

But somehow the beauty of the song  fully captured my attention, and I ended up in a sort of trance. Instead of reading, working, or imagining, I was fully focused on the music. In the parlance of meditation, I was fully present. And this experience did what hundreds of hours of effort and thousands of dollars couldn’t.

The more intently I focused on the music, the more I felt my headache slowly ease away.

For those of you thinking that this story is ridiculous, I encourage you to try it. Listen to some music so intently that your internal dialogue disappears. I call it music meditation. For some it may be easy, but at least for me, is almost as difficult as breathing meditation.

The point of this story isn’t that music is a magic tonic.

It’s that we all need some way of truly relaxing, but that the method doesn’t have to be something mystical like yoga or meditation. No doubt, in the right circumstances yoga and meditation are (and have been to me) much more effective than mindfully listening to music.

Don’t agree with me? Think you’re a tough man that can handle the stresses and pressures of life?

Maybe mentally you can. But you are more than your consciousness. You’re also your biological body, which may be silently (or not so silently) crying out. No doubt 95%+ of you will have a healthier biological response to stress than I – you won’t have IBS, muscle pains, sleep disturbances, headaches, and fatigue. But there will be something.

Our bodies were not designed for the modern world. If they were , we would have vegetable tooths instead of sweet tooths. Likewise, even if you can function at a high level, your happiness may be suffering because of the stresses of the modern world. The best part, for those high-achievers reading this, is that stress is a productivity killer. Kill your stress, and you may be able to perform at an even higher level.

Here’s a simple test.

Imagine that one week ago the Dali Lama (or Pope) visited your home and absorbed and destroyed all of the stress hiding throughout your body and psyche. Imagine that this changed lasted one week, until today.

Your stress would have been completely mastered. Now imagine how you would have interacted with the people in your life.

Now open your eyes and compare that ideal against how you actually did.

See a difference?

When I go through that exercise, I see a huge gap, and know that I have a lot of work to do.

What about with you? Does your stress drag you down, or do you make your stress work for you?

 

This is post 18 of the Month of Happiness. Check out the rest!

Day 1: Psychostimulants: They might give you happiness; they might give you a heart attack
Day 2: How to Harness the Power of Laughter: An Easy, Effective, and Infinite Source of Joy
Day 3:  Three Good Things, A Small Gratitude Exercise for a Large Boost of Happiness
Day 4: The Right Way to Fake a Smile For Health and Happiness
Day 5: Emotional Contagion: 5 Ways to Get Your Environment to Work for You
Day 6: Ditch Porn – It’s Playboy on (Dopamine Draining) Steroids
Day 7: Why I “Remain” an Introvert, Though the Science Suggests Extroverts are Happier
Day 8: Yoga – It Isn’t Just for Female Hipsters
Day 9: Watch More TV; It Makes You Happy!
Day 10: Kaizen: Accomplishing Big Goals with Tiny Steps
Day 11: Omega-3 Supplementation – Good For The Heart & Vitamin Shoppe’s Bottom Line
Day 12: Good Sleep: Not Optional for Happiness and High Performance
Day 13: One Tab at a Time: 7 Tips to Browse the Web More Mindfully
Day 14: Optimism, The Blind Man’s Gamble
Day 15: A Story of Change, The 5 Willpower Techniques That Create Action
Day 16: Zest, The Spice of Life… or is it?
Day 17: Exercise: Better than Zoloft
Day 18: Relaxation: The Magic Tonic That Cures Headaches & Relieves Indigestion
Day 19: Spirituality for the Irreligious – Getting the Benefits Outside the Cathedral
Day 20: Meditation – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Beautiful

 

Image Attribution

 

9

Positive Psychology Progress (2005, Seligman, M. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C.)

Using a sample recruited through the Authentic Happiness website, the authors of the study wanted to compare the effectiveness of five different happiness techniques, each delivered via the internet.

The five techniques chosen were: gratitude visit, three good things in life, you at your best, using signature strengths in a new way, and identifying signature strengths.

The Steen Happiness Index was used to measure changes in happiness, and the Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression Scale (CES-D) symptom survey for depressive symptoms.

The gratitude visit resulted in an immediate 10% increase in happiness, but the effect was cut in half within one week, and completely gone in six months. Likewise, the visit resulted in a 35% reduction in depressive symptoms, but the effect was cut in half after one month, and gone completely in three months.

The using signature strengths exercise resulted in a 5% increase in happiness after one month. The effect was sustained over the next five months. Depressive symptoms declined by approximately 30%.

The other two exercises had no sustained effect.

Three Good Things Exercise Extremely Powerful

“Write down three things that went well each day and their causes every night for one week. In addition, provide a causal explanation for each good thing.”

Participants were asked to follow those exact instructions for just one week.

After one week they were 2% happier than before, but in follow-up tests, their happiness kept on increasing, from 5% at one month, to 9% at six months. All this, even though they were only instructed to journal for one week. Participants enjoyed the exercise so much, that they just kept on doing it on their own.

Depressive symptoms declined by an average of 28% within one week. Depressive symptoms continued to lower for as long as the practice was continued, but only slightly (5%-10% more).

 

Additional Information

Gratitude Visit: “Participants were given one week to write and then deliver a letter of gratitude in person to someone who had been especially kind to them but had never been properly thanked.”

The Steen Happiness Index used the following questions, with response choices range from a negative (1) to an extreme positive (5):

  1. Most of the time I am bored.
  2. Most of the time I am neither bored nor interested in what I am doing.
  3. Most of the time I am interested in what I am doing.
  4. Most of the time I am quite interested in what I am doing.
  5. Most of the time I am fascinated by what I am doing.

Reference

Seligman, M. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive Psychology Progress. American Psychologist60(5), 410-421. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.60.5.410

4

Zest, The Spice of Life… or is it?

Are you full of zest?

I hope so – it’s the character strength second most correlated with well-being (hope is #1).

Positive psychologists use the following 3 survey questions to estimate a person’s level of zest. For each question, a 1-5 scale is used, where 1 = strongly agree, 3 = neutral, and 5 = strongly disagree.

  1. ____ I look forward to each new day.
  2. ____ I cannot wait to get started on a project.
  3. ____ I want to fully participate in life, not just view it from the sidelines.

But answering 3 questions takes too much effort :). An easier approximation:

Think of your everyday life. How frequently did you show ZEST or ENTHUSIASM when it was possible to do so?

 

I answered “occasionally”. That puts me in the bottom 1/5th of the population. If you want to see how your strengths line up, I highly recommend taking the Authentic Happiness Signature Strengths Test (it’s free and quick).

My life is not full of zest.

Is that a problem? Do I need to change?

Two weeks ago, I asked myself the same question, but about introversion.

Extroversion is correlated with happiness. I am introverted… so perhaps I should push towards the societal ideal of extroversion?

I decided no. I realized that there are many types of happiness: silent contentedness, vibrant joy, meaningful engagement, and more.

Some of those types are more easily pursued by extroverts. Some of those types are more easily pursued by introverts.

I decided to focus on improving the quality of my social interactions, rather than on trying to increase their quantity. Deeper rather than wider.

What about zest?

I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago about positive psychology, and I noticed near the end, with embarrassment, that I was speaking with enthusiasm.

Too-serious and too-mellow, speaking with enthusiasm is rare and out of character for me. Experiences like the one I just described are becoming more common in my life.

I didn’t suddenly decide to become more zestful – zest arose naturally from the changes in my life.

Different people have different thresholds at which they become enthusiastic. Extroverts have it the easiest – they have more sensitive dopamine receptors. That means that even mundane topics and discoveries can elicit zest.2

I didn’t decide to fake enthusiasm until it became natural. That is a strategy that could work, but I choose a more direct path:

Vital Engagement

Rather than trying to force enthusiasm over the latest celebrity gossip or sports upset, I decided to develop vital engagement.

Described by Jonathan Haidt in his book The Happiness Hypothesis, vital engagement develops under a set of particular conditions.

The example he provides is great.

“I called on a woman who had been quiet in class, but who had once mentioned her interest in horses.

I asked Katherine to tell us how she got involved in riding. She described her childhood love of animals, and her interest in horses in particular. At the age of ten she begged her parents to let her take riding lessons, and they agreed.

She rode for fun at first, but soon began riding in competitions. When it came time to choose a college, she chose the University of Virginia in part because it had an excellent riding team. Katherine was shy, and, after narrating these basic facts, she stopped talking. She had told us about her increasing commitment to riding, but vital engagement is more than just commitment.

I probed further. I asked whether she could tell us the names of specific horses from previous centuries. She smiled and said, almost as if admitting a secret, that she had begun to read about horses when she began to ride, and that she knew a great deal about the history of horses and about famous horses in history.

I asked whether she had made friends through riding, and she told us that most of her close friends were “horse friends,” people she knew from horse shows and from riding together.

As she talked, she grew more animated and confident. It was as clear from her demeanor as from her words that Katherine had found vital engagement in riding.

Her initial interest grew into an ever-deepening relationship, an ever-thickening web connecting her to an activity, a tradition,and a community. Riding for Katherine had become a source of flow, joy, identity, effectance, and relatedness. It was part of her answer to the question of purpose within life.”3

If you want to have more zest in your life, with the proper combination of ingredients, it will appear – whether at work or with a hobby. The five criteria I’ve identified are:

  • Frequent opportunities to enter into a state of flow.
  • Frequent opportunities to use and develop your strengths.
  • Frequent opportunities to develop social connections.
  • Frequent opportunities to act in alignment with your values and beliefs.
  • Frequent opportunities to act meaningfully.

What meaningful means will vary from person to person – to me, it means helping others in a way that utilizes my strengths and interests.

My current work contains all of those ingredients. I’m confident that with more time, more zest will continue to arise.

What about with you? Does your work or your hobby contain those ingredients? If not, what can you do to mix in those components?

 

This is post 16 of the Month of Happiness. Check out the rest!

Day 1: Psychostimulants: They might give you happiness; they might give you a heart attack
Day 2: How to Harness the Power of Laughter: An Easy, Effective, and Infinite Source of Joy
Day 3:  Three Good Things, A Small Gratitude Exercise for a Large Boost of Happiness
Day 4: The Right Way to Fake a Smile For Health and Happiness
Day 5: Emotional Contagion: 5 Ways to Get Your Environment to Work for You
Day 6: Ditch Porn – It’s Playboy on (Dopamine Draining) Steroids
Day 7: Why I “Remain” an Introvert, Though the Science Suggests Extroverts are Happier
Day 8: Yoga – It Isn’t Just for Female Hipsters
Day 9: Watch More TV; It Makes You Happy!
Day 10: Kaizen: Accomplishing Big Goals with Tiny Steps
Day 11: Omega-3 Supplementation – Good For The Heart & Vitamin Shoppe’s Bottom Line
Day 12: Good Sleep: Not Optional for Happiness and High Performance
Day 13: One Tab at a Time: 7 Tips to Browse the Web More Mindfully
Day 14: Optimism, The Blind Man’s Gamble
Day 15: A Story of Change, The 5 Willpower Techniques That Create Action
Day 16: Zest, The Spice of Life… or is it?
Day 17: Exercise: Better than Zoloft
Day 18: Relaxation: The Magic Tonic That Cures Headaches & Relieves Indigestion
Day 19: Spirituality for the Irreligious – Getting the Benefits Outside the Cathedral
Day 20: Meditation – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Beautiful

 

References

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