** This post first appeared as a ‘Flourishing Female’ column in January 2008. I’ve pulled it out of the archive following a conversation with a coachee about gratitude.**

GratitudeHad the women at the 4am opening of the Next sale not had enough of queuing, crammed car parks and overheating credit cards last month? Or had they simply not got round to making their ‘doing more interesting things’ and ‘saving money for things I actually need’ resolutions yet? This edition of Here’s a thought is written for every woman who’d rather say ‘Humbug!’ to sale shopping and resolutions in January. I propose a dose of gratitude instead.

January takes its name from Roman mythology’s Janus, God of beginnings and endings, doorways and gates. But this year, in contrast to January’s namesake I thought I’d anchor myself in the present as opposed to reflecting on the past and pondering the future. I’ve been noticing what’s good about now and what I can be grateful for. As a starter, Benazir Bhutto’s untimely death coinciding with me reading Helen Dunmore’s “The Siege” – a novel set in Stalinist Russia – has made me grateful for democracy.

When I’m thankful for things I feel good and the science of positive psychology shows there’s even more benefit than that to showing gratitude. Dr Robert Emmons is a leading expert on gratitude and his research has shown that thankful people are more satisfied, less stressed and experience a greater sense of vitality than less grateful people.

In a study with two groups, one kept a ‘gratitude journal’ for three weeks and the other kept a ‘whining and moaning’ journal.  Every day those in the first group wrote about things they were grateful for – nature, the rain staying away, their home, their recovered health – whilst the people in the second group noted down what was going wrong for them. Dr Emmons found that the gratitude group reported higher levels on almost all measures of wellbeing – including optimism, vitality, enthusiasm for life and ability to manage stress. In particular, keeping a gratitude journal led to the participants getting better sleep and exercising more, which might be particularly good after Christmas indulgence.

Three ways you could be more grateful this month:

  1. Start off by making sure you’ve written your ‘thank you’ letters, acknowledging all the kindnesses and goodies bestowed on you by your loved ones over Christmas. It’s so easy to get so distracted by the commercialism of Christmas that the real meaning gets swept away with the tinsel and tree needles afterwards.
  2. Then try something different. Write ‘thank you’ letters to yourself. Each day try listing three things you are grateful for, however trivial. It might just be that your car started, your home was warm and cosy and you enjoyed listening to a new CD. Psychologists say this leaves a positive memory trace that protects us against negative emotions in the future.
  3. Next, try thanking a person every day for something you might not ordinarily comment on. Whether it’s the cleaners at work (for doing a worthwhile but thankless job), a friend (for recommending a brilliant film) or your partner (for taking the kids out when you had a headache) it doesn’t take much to say thank you.

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