Dr. Robert A. Emmons’ new positive psychology book, ‘thanks!‘, argues that practising gratitude benefits our happiness, satisfaction with life and physical health.
“Gratitude is the secret to life” – Albert Schweitzer
“Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing.” – Bart Simpson
Invoking the words of the great philosopher Bart Simpson, along with other mere mortals, Dr Robert Emmons makes a great case for the importance of gratitude in life. Thankfully it’s not just the words of Bart Simpson and a few nicely chosen anecdotes on which Emmons is relying, he has scientific evidence. Emmons opens the book with experimental evidence showing how gratefulness can increase happiness by 25%.
Practising gratitude may also have a number of knock-on benefits. It is inversely related to depression, may increase social ties and there’s evidence gains in happiness are maintained for six months after people begin practising gratitude.
Emmons travels further than describing his own research, fascinating though it is. He moves on to look at ways in which gratitude is physically represented, how gratitude intersects with religion and how gratitude can be practised.
This is an easily accessible book. The experiments are described with admirable clarity, there is no psychological gobbledegook and the vignettes of people’s experience are easily digested.
As a relentlessly positive book, though, it may well set some people’s teeth on edge. The book is scattered with examples of the super-humanly grateful: an Alzheimer’s carer being grateful her husband can remember the season and thankful nuns out-living just about everyone. The chapter on obstacles to gratitude comes as relief, reminding us of the difficulties of maintaining a grateful disposition.
For the psychologist in me there was too much anecdote and not enough experiment. But for the casual reader in me looking for inspiration there was much to ponder. In the end I was happy I read this book – it is a much-needed reminder to all of us there is always something to be grateful for.
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