BREAKING NEWS!!! The Gratitude Garden is now out for user testing in Canada. Are you Canadian? If so please tell your friends, neighbours, the postman etc.
So why the big deal about gratitude? Well, it seems to be closely linked with happiness. I'll be honest, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself over the weekend. I realised I needed to take some of my own medicine (yes, I sometimes forget). I thought about all the things that had happened that day that were good: Friends I hadn't spoken to for ages sharing my app with Canadians. Another friend coming over to help me think through what to do with my garden. The fact I have a garden. A lovely chat with my sister. The more I thought about these things, I started to realise that it had been a good day. I might be feeling blue, but it had been a good day and despite not feeling it, I was #blessed.
I think the act of pushing yourself to find the good things that have happened helps get you out of your head. It's easy to sink into a very self-absorbed, everything-is-crap mode. In that mode it can be tricky to come up with good things. Tricky, but not impossible. And once you do, your whole mood can lift. I write this with confidence because I've experienced it personally, and I know there is good research backing it up.
There is lots of evidence that shows gratitude is highly correlated with happiness, self-confidence, contentment and hope. But how does the causation work? Does gratitude cause these things or are people who are naturally confident and happy just more prone to gratitude as well? i.e. Can practicing gratitude change you?
To look into this question, Robert A Emmons - the top gratitude academic - ran an experiment splitting people were split into three groups. The first group wrote down what they were grateful for, once a week, for ten weeks. The second wrote down what hassles they had had, and the third wrote about what happened (i.e. neutral) each week. He found that the gratitude group were more satisfied with life as a whole, more positive about the upcoming week, had fewer symptoms of physical illness, and did more hours of exercise than the other two groups.
Other experiments with daily requirements to write down things people were grateful for yielded similar results. Now there is a huge body of academic evidence showing that practicing gratitude makes a difference to wellbeing - see Emmons' chart below showing the growth in academic papers on the subject!
So anyway, gratitude is all the rage, and rightly so. Looks like all those religions telling us to count our blessings and be thankful had something in them...