Tortured by the Pursuit of Gratitude – Why Attitude of Gratitude Research Isn’t So Simple
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If Stalin’s take on gratitude tells us anything, we should embrace an attitude of gratitude with all our might. We’ll see below that science appears to agree. Gratitude research, however, is often reported by bloggers and the media in misleading ways, turning the pursuit of gratitude into emotional torture.
A recent article in the National Communication Association’s Review of Communication has confirmed that gratitude, health, and happiness go hand in hand.
In their report, authors Stephen Yoshimura and Kassandra Berzins explore the connection between expressing gratitude and social, psychological and physiological health, finding a strong correlation between them:
“Gratitude consistently associates with many positive social, psychological, and health states, such as an increased likelihood of helping others, optimism, exercise, and reduced reports of physical symptoms.”
These benefits are not merely short-term; the authors also contend that expressions of gratitude contribute to long-term success in relationships and personal well-being. Expressing gratitude on a regular basis both to ourselves and in our relationships is a worthwhile investment with potentially rich rewards.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that the regular experience of gratitude enhances feelings of life satisfaction, hope, and optimism, while decreasing levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. Those who experience and express gratitude also report fewer symptoms of physical illness, increased vitality and a better quality of sleep.
Why doesn’t everyone practice an attitude of gratitude all day long?
This is where things get complicated.
In spite of understanding the powerful role gratitude can play, many of us – dare I say most of us – don’t live in daily gratitude. And the last thought that occurs to some of us is a humble acknowledgment of good fortune.
Gratitude studies often fail to address how to feel grateful when you’re naturally prone to resentment or pessimism. This pertinent question cannot be answered by most gratitude studies because gratitude researchers typically study populations with trait gratitude.
They study people who are naturally grateful and inevitably discover these individuals to be happy.
Those to whom gratitude does not come naturally don’t share in the benefits of gratitude, of course, and this is obvious. What’s not obvious is how to make the shift from a less grateful, more resentful life to one in which gratitude plays a regular role, assuming an interest in such a shift.
To complicate matters further, many of us are not interested in transforming into shiny, happy, grateful people, benefits and all. We might wish we were more grateful. We might even believe we should be more grateful. But we don’t really want an attitude of gratitude with deep conviction. The drive toward gratitude just isn’t there. I’m not suggesting this is morally wrong. It’s just true, in my observation.
For someone without trait gratitude, attempting to feel and express an attitude of gratitude as a way of life isn’t obvious. Feelings of futility can follow a day spent ‘trying to be more grateful’ when you realize you dropped the whole idea by mid-morning coffee break with the jerk in the next cubicle.
The futility may be exacerbated when the positive evidence for gratitude is presented in simple yet deceptive terms. Be grateful. Be happy. Mental health and personality are not that simple. Still, some media distribute gratitude studies as calls to action for the ungrateful.
Stephen M. Yoshimura, Kassandra Berzins. Grateful experiences and expressions: the role of gratitude expressions in the link between gratitude experiences and well-being. Review of Communication, 2017; 17 (2): 106 DOI: 10.1080/15358593.2017.1293836
Bundrant, M. (2017). Tortured by the Pursuit of Gratitude – Why Attitude of Gratitude Research Isn’t So Simple. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 23, 2017, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/nlp/2017/04/attitude-of-gratitude-research/