59 seconds think a little change a lot
Professor Richard Wiseman
The Gratitude Attitude
First, take the research into the psychology of gratitude. Present an individual with a constant sound, image or smell and something very peculiar happens. They slowly get more and more used to it and eventually it vanishes from their awareness. For example, if you walk into a room that smells of freshly baked bread, you quickly detect the rather pleasant aroma. However, stay in the room for a few minutes and the smell will appear to disappear. In fact, the only way to reawaken it is to walk out of the room and back in again. Exactly the same concept applies to many areas of our lives, including happiness. Everyone has something to be happy about. Perhaps they have a loving partner, good health, great kids, a satisfying job, close friends, interesting hobbies, caring parents, a roof over their heads, clean water to drink, assigned Billy Joel album, or enough food to eat. However a time passes, they get used to what they have and, just like the smell of fresh bread, these wonderful assets vanish from their mind. As the old cliché goes, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
Psychologist Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough wondered what would happen to people’s happiness levels if they were asked to carry out the conceptual equivalent of leaving the bread-smelling room and coming back in again. The researchers wanted to discover the effect of reminding people of the good things that were constantly present in their lives. Three groups of people were asked to spend a few moments each week writing. The first group listed five things for which they were grateful, the second noted down five things that annoyed them and the final group jotted down five events that had taken place during the previous week. Everyone scribbled away: the ‘gratitude’ group remarked on things from seeing the sunset on a summer’s day to the generosity of their friends; the ‘annoyed’ group listed taxes and their children arguing; the ‘events’ group detailed making breakfast and driving to work. The results were startling. Compared to those in either the ‘annoyed’ or ‘events’ groups, those expressing gratitude ended up happier, much more optimistic about the future, physically healthier and even exercised significantly more.