"He [God] has shown me that it is a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates," said best actor winner Matthew McConaughey in his recent Oscar speech. It's true. Gratitude is a gift that keeps on giving, and there is a science behind it.
When I was a little girl, my mother used to say, "Always thank God for everything. Otherwise, he'll get tired of giving you things." One might say, "Well, that's not very sincere." Like a tyke on training wheels, I was learning not to fall down, and "you might get hurt" is a good incentive. The idea that I might not get a new toy or a dog someday was enough to get me to mumbling thank yous all the time. Eventually, my gratitude grew steady on its own. Now even when bad things happen, I give a "gee, thanks" for a chance to regroup, reflect, and veer in a better direction. No lessons are lost, and being appreciative steers me toward hope.
Later, that early awareness trickled into my adult dealings. Everything others gave to me -- cookies, advice, opportunities, or even making contact -- takes time, and time is the most precious gift. Most people don't want to part with it so it always merits a "Gee, thanks!" This is what I observe: The more grateful I am, the more giving people are to me. The reverse is true. When I feel appreciated, the more open I am to giving to that person.
Guess what. There is a scientific aspect to gratitude's feel-good, do-good effects. I emailed Dr. Robert Emmons at the University of California - Davis, who conducted an eight-year intensive study, "Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness." Appreciation, when cultivated, can improve health and relationships. Benefits included higher energy levels, progress in achieving personal goals, improved sleep quality, and better coping responses.
However, being thankful is a "chosen attitude" that can be tough to achieve. Let go of entitlement. Release the "victim's mentality." Have a mindset that all good things are undeserved and unearned.
The gratitude muscle is rewarded after a short or long workout. Dr. Emmons said, for example, the deep reflection of writing a gratitude letter results in a positive feeling right away. A long-term exercise, such as a journal of daily blessings, needs to be routine to effect life changes. "Think physical exercise," said Dr. Emmons, whose new book is Gratitude Works! A 21 Day Program to Creating Emotional Prosperity, and in 2007 he authored THANKS! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier.
The good news is more people are experiencing the healing effects of gratitude. Dr. Emmons said, "We are in the midst of a gratitude revolution. There is now a greater awareness than ever before about the power and promise of gratitude to bring real changes into people's lives. I think we have a significant societal shift in consciousness here." He credits social media, publications on-line and in print, television and other media for the ease and speed in creating a widespread mindset of thankfulness.
When Matthew McConaughey told 43 million Oscar viewers that "gratitude reciprocates," it reinforced the lesson that counting one's blessings increases them.
This column first appeared through Gatehouse Media, 3/4/2014
Email Suzette Martinez Standring: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.readsuzette.com
She is the author of The Art of Opinion Writing: Insider Secrets from Top Op-Ed Columnists