This week I found out the word gratitude comes from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness or gratefulness. To me, grace means receiving something I don’t deserve–it’s that open-hearted expression of forgiveness, the kindness for which I’m unqualified and the willingness to overlook my writer-related neuroses (note the plural). That’s grace to me. And I’m grateful for every little bit I get.
Besides discovering the root of the word gratitude, I also learned from the Harvard Mental Health Newsletter that expressing thanks is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness (and they have the research to back it up). Gratitude helps us to cultivate positive emotions, relish (and notice!) good experiences, improve our health, deal with the crappy stuff and build strong relationships. KA-pow! Gratitude is powerful.
What was of particular interest to me as a writer was that the researchers at the University of California and the University of Miami used writing exercises to gauge the impact of gratefulness. For example, one group of study participants was asked to keep a log of things they were grateful for over the course of a week. A second group got to list the stuffed that bugged them as the week progressed. The 10-week study not only showed that grateful people felt more optimistic–they were more physically healthy too.
When another group was challenged to write and hand deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately experienced a huge hike in their happiness scores. And these benefits lasted for a month. (That’s better than chocolate!)
And now [cue drum roll] two sure-fire ways to write your way to happiness and better health . . .
Okay, okay. I know what you’re thinking. This is starting to sound like an infomerical for a self-help seminar or something. Not to worry. I’m sharing these ideas because, well, we writers are not always the most healthy people–physically or emotionally. We get discouraged and depressed. We fret. We are self-critical. And we sit on our bums a lot writing. Our bods and our brains could use a boost, wouldn’t you say? So try these ideas . . . (C’mon. You can do it!)
Write. Send. Repeat. Send someone a good old-fashioned written thank you note. Not an email. Not a text. A “real” note scribed with your own sweet little grabber. Don’t wait for someone to do something nice or give you a present. Pick a person you appreciate and then write to tell them why. It’s that simple. You will feel good and they will feel great. Why, you’ll knock their stinkin’ socks off! Your words carry positive energy. (Who knows, researchers may learn they contain fiber and anti-oxidants too!) Write and send a thank you note once a month. Pick a date you’ll remember–pay-day, your birthday or whatever, and then make it a habit.
Journal Good Stuff. Start by writing down three things you’re thankful for. It can be ANYTHING–the barista made my coffee just the way I like it, I got to work on my favorite writing project this week, my allergies aren’t acting up. You can build from there. Add one more thing each week. As the weeks progress, you’ll be more mindful of the good stuff and be excited to add it to your list. Bonus benefit–because you are cataloging these positive things, you can go back and reread your list for encouragement when life feels sucky. So, there’s that.
And just so you know. I’m grateful for you. No, really I mean it. Now stop reading this silly blog and go find a pen and paper before you get distracted. You’ll thank yourself for it.
Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. ~ Marcel Proust