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The science of gratitude

Do you think Canada is a gracious country? Do you think K-townians are thankful?

Well, let’s settle the matter with a quick quiz. Mentally circle all that apply.

  1. You know the phrase ‘say your please and thank-yous’
  2. You have a ritual after receiving gifts (kiss, hug, saying your please and thank-yous)
  3. Your email tag line includes thank you (or a synonym).

If you’re like us in the KelownaNow office, you probably checked all three boxes (or at least two). This means that we know what it is to be thankful. But does this mean that we are actually thankful?

In a country that is infamous for being overtly polite, being thankful is often confused with acting thankful. In other words, being thankful is about being polite. We demonstrate gratitude to make other people feel good.

Don’t get us wrong, being considerate of other people’s feelings is important. However, scientific studies are showing that gratitude can make us feel good too.

<who> Photo Credit: Contributed <who>

Recently, research has demonstrated the benefits of gratitude. According to the Greater Good Science Center at the University of Berkeley, these studies have consistently shown that thankful people are healthy people. People who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:

- Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure

- Higher levels of positive emotions such as more joy, optimism, and happiness

- Acting with more generosity and compassion

- Feeling less lonely and isolated

In other words, when your mother said ‘say your please and thank-yous’ she was on to something (no surprise there).

“Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, weather tangible or intangible,” according to Harvard Mental Health. “With gratitude, people acknowledge that goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude helps people connect to something larger.”

This puppy is certainly thankful for his playtime!

In other words, by practicing gratitude you form intimate connections to other people, nature or even a higher power. This results in better health.

Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, conducted a study whereby participants were asked to write about their week. One group was asked to write about things they were grateful for and the other group were asked to write about daily irritations or other things that displeased them. A third group was asked to write about events that affected them, positive or negative.

After ten weeks, those who wrote about their positive experiences were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. They also exercised more and had fewer doctor visits.

Gratitude also plays a big role in relationships, both personal and work related. A study of couples found that those who expressed gratitude were more honest and happier in their relationship. Studies have also found that managers who remember to say thank you to employees see a better work ethic.

So, being thankful has large positive spillover effects. It isn’t just about being polite and making others feel better, it can help you feel better. A team of Kelowna nurses have taken this to heart. They are getting involved with elementary schools in Kelowna to encourage gratitude and stop depression before it begins.

“Even in patients, if they have a positive outlook, compared to someone who might be a little bit more negative, what I’ve seen is that the individual that has more gratitude has a better outcome and a faster recovery,” said Erin Bryant, one of the UBC Okanagan nursing students.

<who> Photo Credit: KelownaNow <who> From L to R: Maggie Johnman, Katlyn Ducharme, Erin Bryant and Nelly Oelke

To learn more about these students who are making a positive change, you can read our previous article.

If you’d like some tips on how to practice gratitude, you can write thank-you notes, thank someone mentally, count your blessings every week, meditate or, if yuo're religious, pray.

If you’d like to get involved in the movement promoting gratitude, check out Kelowna’s Gratitude Project. If Kelowna chooses to embrace gratitude, imagine the effect this could have on our community!

<who> Photo Credit: KelownaNow <who>

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