Research done with people both young and old reveals very interesting conclusions on the role of gratitude. Author and researcher, Dr. Robert Emmons, from the University of California Davis, believes he knows what gives life meaning: pure and simple gratitude.
Emmons’ team found that people who view life as a gift and consciously acquire an “attitude of gratitude” experience multiple advantages. Gratitude improves emotional and physical health, and can strengthen relationships and communities. Some strategies include keeping a gratitude journal, learning prayers of gratitude, and using visual reminders. “Without gratitude, life can be lonely, depressing and impoverished,” said Emmons. “Gratitude enriches human life. It elevates, energizes, inspires and transforms. People are moved, opened and humbled through expressions of gratitude.”
Unfortunately, cultivating an attitude of gratitude isn’t easy.
A Sense of Gratitude and Entitlement Among Students
It is, according to Emmons, a “chosen attitude.” We must be willing to recognize and acknowledge that we are the recipients of an unearned benefit. This is especially rare among middle-class high school and college students who’ve grown up in a world that’s revolved around them; one that allows them to build a platform via social media without displaying value; one that repeatedly communicates they are “awesome” and deserve trophies just for playing. This world actually cultivates a sense of entitlement. Students feel they deserve any good they’ve received. It is, in fact, contrary to the growth of a spirit of gratitude. Entitlement is virtually the opposite of gratitude: as I feel more entitled, my gratitude shrinks in proportion.
Research indicates that gratitude is not merely a positive emotion—it can improve your health if cultivated. Research also indicates that students must give up a “victim mentality” and overcome a sense of entitlement and deservedness. Think for a moment. When someone feels entitled to something, there’s little need for gratitude: I don’t need to thank someone; I deserved the gift. In fact, these people are lucky to have me around. I’m amazing.
When we examine the areas where students struggle today, they are areas in which gratitude would actually aid them in their growth:
- Energy levels and motivation.
- Mental and emotional well-being.
- Academic achievement.
- Healthy, long-term relationships.
- Dealing with tragedy and crisis.
In one study, researchers had participants test a number of different gratitude exercises, such as thinking about a living person for whom they were grateful, writing about someone for whom they were grateful, and writing a letter to deliver to someone for whom they were grateful. Participants in the control condition were asked to describe a room in their house (neutral). Participants who engaged in a gratitude exercise showed increases in positive emotion immediately after the exercise, with this result being strongest for participants who were asked to think about a person for whom they were grateful. What’s more, participants who had grateful personalities to begin with showed the greatest benefit from these gratitude exercises. In people who are grateful in general, life events have little influence on experienced gratitude (McCullough, Tsang & Emmons, 2004). In other words, it’s a state of mind.
Wow. That sure beats a sense of entitlement. Everyone wins with gratitude.