8 Ways Thankfulness Boosts Happiness

The world’s most prominent researcher and writer about gratitude, Robert Emmons, defines gratitude as “a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life.” Emmons’ research found that people who are thankful in this way tend to be happier, more energetic, more optimistic, and more helpful, more sympathetic, and more forgiving. They are also less materialistic, less depressed, less anxious, and less jealous.

In one study, some participants were asked to write down five things for which they were thankful and to do so once a week for ten weeks in a row. Other groups were asked to list five problems that they had encountered in the week. The findings?

Relative to the control groups, those participants from whom expressions of gratitude were solicited tended to feel more optimistic and more satisfied with their lives. Even their health received a boost; they reported fewer physical symptoms (such as headache, acne, coughing, or nausea) and more time spent exercising (The How of Happiness, 91).

Sonja Lyubomirsky’s studies on patients with chronic illnesses have shown that “on the days that individuals strive to express their gratitude, they experience more positive emotions (that is, feelings like interest, excitement, joy, and pride) and are more likely to report helping someone, to feel connected with others, and even to catch more hours of quality sleep.”

Lyubomirsky’s team went on to discover eight reasons thankfulness is so directly related to happiness (pp. 92-95).

1. Grateful thinking promotes the savoring of positive life experiences
“By relishing and taking pleasure in some of the gifts of your life, you will be able to extract the maximum possible satisfaction and enjoyment from your current circumstances.”

2. Expressing gratitude increases confidence
“When you realize how much people have done for you or how much you have accomplished, you feel more confident and efficacious.”

3. Gratitude helps people cope with stress and trauma.
The ­ability to appreciate your life circumstances enable a person to positively reinterpret stressful or negative life experiences. Indeed, traumatic memories are less likely to surface–and are less intense when they do-in those who are regularly grateful. Expressing gratefulness during personal adversity like loss or chronic illness, as hard as that might be, can help you adjust, move on, and perhaps begin anew.

4. The expression of gratitude encourages moral behavior.
“Grateful people are more likely to help others (e.g., you become aware of kind and caring acts and feel compelled to reciprocate) and less likely to be materialistic (e.g., you appreciate what you have and become less fixated on acquiring more stuff).”

5. Gratitude can help build social bonds
It strengthens existing relationships and nurtures new ones. “Keeping a gratitude journal, for example, can produce feelings of greater connectedness with others. Several studies have shown that people who feel gratitude toward particular individuals (even when they never directly express it) experience closer and “higher-quality” relationships with them…In addition, a grateful person is a more positive person, and positive people are better liked by others and more likely to win friends.”

6. Gratitude tends to inhibit invidious comparisons with others
“If you are genuinely thankful and appreciative for what you have (e.g., family, health, home), you are less likely to pay close attention to or envy what the Joneses have.”

7. Gratitude is incompatible with negative emotions
“It may actually diminish or deter such feelings as anger, bitterness, and greed…It’s hard to feel guilty or resentful or infuriated when you’re feeling grateful.”

8. Gratitude helps us thwart hedonic adaptation
Although our capacity to adjust rapidly to any new circumstance or event helps us when the event is unpleasant, it’s a disadvantage when the event provides a positive boost. The practice of gratitude can counteract this adaptation and maintain fresh wonder and joy.

Or as someone else put it: “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High” (Ps. 92:1).

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Extending the Marriage Boost Beyond Two Years

Happiness does not come automatically to anyone in any area of life. Because of sin our default is sadness, and that can only be overcome by intentional activity. As Benjamin Disraeli said, “There is no happiness without action.”

Take marriage for an example. A German study that followed 1,761 people for 15 years through their single years and into married life found that “people were no happier during the years after marriage than before marriage, and the average ‘marriage boost’ in happiness lasted for only two years.”

Markus and Roland
However, there were some significant differences in some people’s experiences of marriage. In The How of Happiness, researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky highlighted Markus and Roland, two participants who married while the study was going on.

Markus’s happiness increased more than average when he got hitched, and eight years later he is still happier being married (just declining a tiny bit from his high point) than when he was single. Roland, on the other hand, ended up less happy during the first two years of marriage and has become even less happy in the five years since (p. 65).

What made the difference? Lyubomirsky explains:

Markus didn’t want the effects of marriage to “wear off”; he didn’t want to adapt to the rewards of marriage and take it for granted. So he decided to dedicate himself to be the best husband he could be and not take his wife and their relationship for granted. He consciously remembers to say, “I love you,” to bring her flowers, to initiate plans, trips, and hobbies, to take an interest in his wife’s challenges, successes, and feelings (p. 65).

In contrast, Roland was disappointed at the outset that matrimony did not live up to his idealistic expectations and since then has failed to observe the slow and steady deterioration of his relationship.

Gradual Adaptation
Scientists have found that we tend to adapt to every positive change in our lives. Whether it’s marriage, a better job, a bigger house, a sports victory, etc., the initial boost of happiness and well-being fades and the better life becomes the new normal.

However, what Markus and Roland teach us is that although we usually adapt to happy improvements in our lives, we can inhibit or slow down the adaptation process with determined action.

For example, Markus “tried to inhibit adaptation to his marriage by actively and creatively behaving in ways that preserved his and his wife’s love and affection for each other,” a strategy that we can learn from in every area of life.

Newly-weds, beware of this danger, and take action to avoid it. Well-worn-weds, understand what’s happened, and take action to unadapt to one of God’s greatest gifts to you.  By God’s grace, a renewed and ever-renewing marriage can become the new normal.

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Children’s Bible Reading Plan

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Here’s an explanation of the plan.

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Do Tough Teachers Get Good Results?

In Why Tough Teachers Get Good ResultsJoanne Lipman fondly remembers a music teacher who called his pupils idiots, poked them with pencils, and screamed insults when they messed up. Despite this, when he died, so many ex-pupils turned up at his memorial that they formed an orchestra the size of the New York Philharmonic.

Lipman asks: “What can we learn from a teacher whose methods fly in the face of everything we think we know about education today, but who was undeniably effective?”

She answers: “It’s time to revive old-fashioned education. Not just traditional but old-fashioned in the sense that so many of us knew as kids, with strict discipline and unyielding demands. Because here’s the thing: It works.”

She rejects the softer, gentler, kinder methods of the past few decades and proposes eight principles, “a manifesto if you will, a battle cry inspired by my old teacher and buttressed by new research.”

1. A little pain is good for you: True expertise requires teachers who give “constructive, even painful, feedback,” Top performers in various fields “deliberately picked unsentimental coaches who would challenge them and drive them to higher levels of performance.”

2. Drill, baby, drill: Rote learning cultures like India and China are now outperforming Western students in many disciplines.

3. Failure is an option: Kids who understand that failure is a necessary aspect of learning actually perform better.

4. Strict is better than nice: A five-year study of the most effective teachers in the worst L.A. schools found that the common characteristic was “They were strict.” Instead of teaching through collaboration and discussion, “they found disciplinarians who relied on traditional methods of explicit instruction, like lectures. “

5. Creativity can be learned: Most creative giants were not born as geniuses. Instead they “work ferociously hard and, through a series of incremental steps, achieve things that appear (to the outside world) like epiphanies and breakthroughs.”

6. Grit trumps talent: In a widespread study of various career tracks, researchers found that “grit—defined as passion and perseverance for long-term goals—is the best predictor of success.”

7. Praise makes you weak: “Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck has found that 10-year-olds praised for being “smart” became less confident. But kids told that they were “hard workers” became more confident and better performers.”

8. While stress makes you strong: “A 2011 University at Buffalo study found that a moderate amount of stress in childhood promotes resilience.”

What do you think? Is the way back the way forward?

I’ve tried the modern teaching methods of group projects, debate teams, online discussions, and collaborative assignments, and found that they just frustrate gifted students and carry the less gifted. I’m also for more discipline and individual accountability. Some of these eight proposals are well-researched and well-tested.

School of Fear
However, I had teachers who terrified the wits out of me, so much so that I learned nothing from them, apart from how to skip classes. Three of them were male alcoholics, one a female alcoholic, one should probably have been in prison (he threw hammers at pupils across the workshop), and the others are probably incarcerated today. Yes, I went to a public school in Glasgow.

But in addition to these delightful influences on my life, I also had a few teachers who would fit the description of Lipman’s ideal teacher. And again, they scared some of us so much that many of us either “hid” in the class, or never went to class. It was a miserable experience – unless you were a star performer, and I was certainly not in that elite High School group.

Smashed Students
I also wonder about how many pupils did not return for the memorial concert. How many average and below-average kids did Lipman’s teacher smash to smithereens with his psychological and physical warfare? How many were put off education for life? How many still carry the scars of humiliation and demoralization?

I’m reminded of the words of the best ever teacher: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29).

Now that’s the kind of teacher I can learn from.