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How Being Grateful Can Change Your Life

It's not just for Oprah devotees. Recent studies show that practicing gratitude can positively impact your life—and researchers believe it may help us break our bad habits.

How Being Grateful Can Change Your Life

[Image: Flickr user Nomadic Lass]

Keeping track of what you are grateful for may sound like like something Oprah Winfrey suggested decades ago.

But today, several new studies suggest that practicing gratitude isn’t just for the Pollyannas of the world. Here are three benefits to being grateful:

You’re Helping Other People

Gratitude is about focusing on other people, says Dr. Jo-Ann Tsang, a psychology professor at Baylor University, who led a study that appeared in the July 2014 issue of the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

"Previous research that we and others have done finds that people are motivated to help people that help them—and to help others as well. We’re social creatures, and so focusing on others in a positive way is good for our health," Tsang said in a statement.

You’re Focusing On What You Have, Rather Than On What You Don’t

Tsang’s coauthor, Dr. James Roberts, a marketing professor at Baylor University, says materialists are less happy, partly because they have difficulty being grateful for what they have. "As we amass more and more possessions, we don’t get any happier, we simply raise our reference point," Roberts said in a statement. "That new 2,500-square-foot house becomes the baseline for your desires for an even bigger house. It’s called the Treadmill of Consumption. We continue to purchase more and more stuff, but we don’t get any closer to happiness, we simply speed up the treadmill."

You’re More Patient

In another study, researchers from Harvard, Northeastern University, and the University of California-Riverside found participants who practiced gratitude were more patient than their less grateful counterparts.

In that study, which appears in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, participants were given the opportunity to receive immediate cash or wait for a larger check that would be mailed later. Prior to making their selection, participants were randomly assigned to write about an event that made them grateful, happy, or neutral.

Those who recalled feeling grateful showed more willpower and opted for the larger check. The findings suggest a connection between gratitude and long-term thinking, which may assist in helping people quit smoking, lose weight, and spend money responsibly.

Hat tip: Baylor University, Harvard Business Review, Association for Psychological Science

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