Make a Gratitude Adjustment

A good article on the relationship between gratitude and happiness.

A psychology professor at the University of Michigan, Peterson regularly gave his students an unusual homework assignment. He asked them to write a “gratitude letter,” a kind of belated thank-you note to someone in their lives. Studies show such letters provide long-lasting mood boosts to the writers. Indeed, after the exercise, Peterson says his students feel happier “100 percent of the time.”


…The biggest bonuses come from experiencing gratitude habitually, but natural ingrates needn’t despair. Simple exercises can give even skeptics a short-term mood boost, and “once you get started, you find more and more things to be grateful for,” says Robert Emmons, a leading gratitude researcher at the University of California at Davis.In gratitude letters like those penned by Peterson and his students, writers detail the kindnesses of someone they’ve never properly thanked. Read this letter aloud to the person you’re thanking, Peterson says, and you’ll see measurable improvements in your mood. Studies show that for a full month after a “gratitude visit” (in which a person makes an appointment to read the letter to the recipient), happiness levels tend to go up, while boredom and other negative feelings go down. In fact, the gratitude visit is more effective than any other exercise in positive psychology.


Traumatic memories fade into the background for people who regularly feel grateful, Watkins’s experiments show. Troublesome thoughts pop up less frequently and with less intensity, which suggests that gratitude may enhance emotional healing.

My first sponsor had me make gratitude lists daily for more than a year (until I moved away). I had been suffering from crippling depression and I believed that the suggestion of a gratitude list was dismissive of my suffering and indicated a failure to comprehend the complexity, seriousness and persistence of the problem. Was I wrong. Over time it was one of the most effective tools I’ve acquired in combating that episode and staving off potential episodes since then.

(Reposted from 8/29/09)

Learn to be lucky

credit: katielips

This has nothing to do with addiction but I’m perseverating about it, so I thought I’d share it.

Take the case of chance opportunities. Lucky people consistently encounter such opportunities, whereas unlucky people do not. I carried out a simple experiment to discover whether this was due to differences in their ability to spot such opportunities.

I gave both lucky and unlucky people a newspaper, and asked them to look through it and tell me how many photographs were inside. On average, the unlucky people took about two minutes to count the photographs, whereas the lucky people took just seconds. Why? Because the second page of the newspaper contained the message: “Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” This message took up half of the page and was written in type that was more than 2in high. It was staring everyone straight in the face, but the unlucky people tended to miss it and the lucky people tended to spot it.

For fun, I placed a second large message halfway through the newspaper: “Stop counting. Tell the experimenter you have seen this and win £250.” Again, the unlucky people missed the opportunity because they were still too busy looking for photographs.

I recently read Nerve by Taylor Clark and this finding fits well with his description of anxiety narrowing focus in ways that are often unhelpful in modern life.

UPDATE: What I forgot to point out was that the researcher concluded that “lucky” people experience more chance or unexpected positive experiences because they notice them. Learning to notice more in our environment might not just make us feel luckier, it might help us enjoy more “luck”.