Stress Management For Dummies
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Research has shown that people who feel gratitude are happier, report more life satisfaction, and report less stress. Grateful people are less likely to be depressed, anxious, lonely, and neurotic. But it also appears that grateful people don’t live in a world of denial. They don’t ignore the negative parts of their lives.

Psychologist Robert Emmons, a professor at the University of California, Davis, defines gratitude as “a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life.”

Gratitude can mean different things to different people. In its simplest form, it can be saying thank you for a gift or service. For you it may mean feeling thankful when you dodge a bullet or get over something bad that happens to you.

The word may take on a religious meaning, thanking a higher power for bestowing goodness and “counting your blessings.” For others it can mean feeling grateful when others are less well off than they are. (This may take a less commendable form when a person “compares downward,” identifying others who have less money, less success, less attractiveness, or less intelligence and feeling grateful to be better off.)

The connection between gratitude and stress may not be immediately obvious. After all, why should I feel less distressed when I feel grateful for something? Here’s how it works:

  • Gratitude allows you to detach from a stressful period and savor a positive memory or experience. This positive focus can create a positive sense of well-being. This can distract you from your worries and upsets. Remember that it’s hard to think of two things at the same time. Feeling gratitude probably means you’re feeling less stress.

  • You can feel better about yourself. When you express gratitude, you recognize that people care about you and have done a lot for you. This can enhance your positive sense of self, reducing levels of negative, self-downing thinking.

  • When the gratitude is aimed at others, you feel better about yourself because you’re recognizing and emotionally giving to others. Giving to others more often than not makes you feel better about who you are.

  • Gratitude pulls you out of your negative mindset. Much of your stressful thinking is automatic. By focusing solely on your negative experiences, you can spiral downward. By expressing gratitude, you give your thinking a more positive target. You feel better; you feel less stress.

  • Gratitude puts things into perspective. Gratitude provides you with a sense of balance that can help you avert feelings of hopelessness and despair that can play a major role in creating stress.

  • Expressing gratitude to others can create and enhance relationships. You feel better about yourself, and others in turn feel better about you.

  • The bonus is that you may get a thankful response of gratitude from the person to whom you express gratitude. Most often that can make your day and lower your stress.

About This Article

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Allen Elkin, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and the director of The Stress Management & Counseling Center in New York City. Nationally known for his expertise in the field of stress and emotional disorders, he has appeared frequently on Today, Good Morning America, and Good Day New York.

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