When it comes to human potential and high stakes performance, most of us think of things like nutrition, exercise, sleep and stress reduction. What typically doesn’t come to mind is gratitude. And while there is plenty of evidence in the research literature that gratitude is good for us, can it enhance our performance?
First, a quick rundown of the benefits of gratitude:
• Gratitude improves psychological health by increasing happiness and reducing depression (Emmons, 2007).
• Gratitude improves self-esteem.
• Gratitude reduces stess
In a study conducted by Emmons (2007), 45 adults were taught to “cultivate appreciation and other positive emotions. Salivary DHEA/DHEAS and cortisol levels were measured, autonomic nervous system function were assessed and emotions were measured using a psychological questionnaire. Individuals were assessed before and 4 weeks after receiving training in the techniques.
THE RESULTS: There was a mean 23% reduction in cortisol and a 100% increase in DHEA/DHEAS in the Ss. Increased coherence in heart rate variability patterns were measured in 80% of the S’s during the use of the techniques.”
For years, research has shown gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma. A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War Veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. Recognizing all you have to be thankful for – even during the worst times of your life – fosters resilience.
Grateful people sleep better. Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you may sleep better and longer.
Steps to Practicing Gratitude – Lorie Hood (2012)
- Get comfortable. Wiggle anything that needs to be wiggled. Maybe roll your shoulders or tip your head from side to side.
- Take a few slow, deep breaths.
- Begin to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Breathe at whatever pace is right for you.
- Allow to come to your mind someone or something for which you feel grateful. If nothing comes right away, just keep breathing, enjoy the quiet and let your body relax. Just let go.
- If/when something or someone does come to your mind, think of that person, pet or experience and the reasons you feel such gratitude.
- In your mind, remember the experience or even tell the person specific reasons you feel so grateful. You can say, in your mind, “remember the time when…”
- As you remember, allow the pictures to come to your mind and as the memories come up allow yourself to FEEL the feeling of gratitude. You will likely feel the swelling and warmth around your heart. This is a physiological and very real thing and it is very healing to your body.
Now, allow that warmth to spread out throughout your body. Keep breathing. You can do this for as long as you would like. Remember — This is about you giving your physical body a break. Just breathe…in through your nose and out through your mouth and let your body relax.
When you feel ready, wiggle your fingers. Wiggle your toes. Take a big, deep breath and stretch. Open your eyes and welcome this new feeling.
In that short exercise, your body relaxed and your blood vessels opened up and all of the natural flow of blood and oxygen came more into balance. You can do this anytime, anywhere.
© Lorie Hood 2016
R. A. Emmons (2007) Thanks! How the new science of gratitude can make you happier. New York: Houghton Mifflin.Original study: Emmons, R. A. & McCullough, M. E. (2003) Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well being in daily life, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84: 377-89.