“Counting your blessings” is a time-honored recipe to brighten your attitude. Is it just an empty platitude or does it really do some good? And if this advice does help, is there a way to incorporate it into a routine?
Last week I listened to an interview by Tal Ben-Shahar, PhD, a leading proponent of positive psychology and professor at Harvard University. One of his messages was to adopt the behavior of focusing on what is right in your daily life, which he claims is more productive than dwelling on what is wrong in your life.
I wondered if there was any research-based evidence that this kind of behavior really was helpful. I found an article published in 2003 called “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subject Well-Being in Daily Life” authored by Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami. The study looks at the link between gratitude and happiness, specifically comparing the effects of how different sets of participants who were asked to write about one’s blessings or to write about one’s hassles or to write about neutral life events. The researchers clearly found that the participants who regularly focused on being grateful showed an increase in their well-being. Furthermore, during the 2-3 week study, asking participants to reflect and write daily rather than once a week had greater positive changes in well-being.
In his article “A Question of Focus,” Ben-Shahar describes techniques that can cultivate the capacity to focus on the good qualities of your life:
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