From the editor: The new 2022 Kirtland Diary for Thoughts and Personal Revelations has been designed with the idea of a daily gratitude journal. It can also be used to write down how you have seen the Lord’s hand in your life that day. This practice will bless your life. You can order them by CLICKING HERE.

A little child in an orphanage in Vietnam received a letter from her American sponsor.  In the letter was a card of stickers.  When the sticker card came tumbling out of the envelope, the little girl’s eyes got wide.  All these stickers were for her?  She couldn’t believe it!  She started jumping up and down, shouting in joy, clutching the stickers to her chest.

She immediately wanted to write a thank you letter to her sponsor.  She wrote a simple letter but covered it—using all her stickers!  Her joy was now even greater, as she thought of how excited her sponsor would be to receive all those wonderful stickers. (Story from Jantzen’s Gift)

What is it about gratitude that can top even the joy of a card of stickers?

Recently there has been a tremendous amount of research on the effects of gratitude.  What do the recent studies teach?  Most of these studies involved keeping a daily journal of blessings.  This consisted of daily writing down five things you were grateful for.  This was to be continued for 30 days.  The results were astounding!

Research has shown that we are each born with an inherited happiness level.  We all have a level of happiness that we return to after both good and bad happens to us. Psychologists refer to this as your Happiness Setpoint.

It was once thought that your happiness setpoint was inherited and couldn’t be changed.   “Getting that book published, meeting the man of your dreams, getting that raise or promotion—may send the happiness meter right off the scale for a while, but, in a few months, it will drift back to the set-point that is typical for that individual.  Conversely, losing a job, breaking up with a girlfriend, being passed over for a promotion, getting cancer, will cause depressive reactions, but eventually the person returns to his Happiness setpoint.”

Few studies have been able to successfully create interventions to increase happiness or well-being.  The question arose, does the systematic counting of one’s blessings impact happiness and well-being?  Remarkably the studies showed that people who practice gratitude seemed measurably happier, and experienced transformative life changes.  It literally changed their set-point. 

The results of many studies of adults who keep gratitude journals on a regular basis showed:

Happiness:

  1. Gratitude Journal keepers felt better about their lives as a whole
  2. Were more optimistic about the future. 
  3. 25% measurably happier.  Even others noticed the difference. “Spouses and “significant others” also rated participants with equally measurable changes.  The gratitude group was still enjoying benefits six months later. (25% higher than the control group).
  4. They also felt more giving, forgiving, joyful, and enthusiastic.  Research shows that grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism. 
  5. Gratitude maximized the enjoyment of the good.  Happiness is facilitated when we enjoy what we have been given, when we “want what we have.” 
  6. The practice of gratitude protects a person from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, anger, greed, and bitterness.   
  7. Gratitude journaling fostered the savoring of positive life experiences and situations, so that people could extract the maximum possible satisfaction and enjoyment from their circumstances.

Physical Effects:  Gratitude is felt physically. 

  1. Participants in the study reported fewer illness symptoms.
  2. Kids in gratitude groups grew up to be less sick.  They recovered more quickly from illness. 
  3. Gratitude participants were able to cope more effectively with everyday stress,
  4. The gratitude journalers exercised more regularly than control groups.
  5.  Got more hours of sleep each night, spent less time awake before falling asleep, and felt more refreshed upon awakening.   
  6. Lived longer. Heavy cigarette smoking can knock off about 6 years from a person’s life. Conversely, happiness can add as much as nine years to one’s life expectancy!
  7. Gratitude participants were measurably more positive in their outlook on life.
  8. Heart attack victims who blamed their heart attack on others were more likely to suffer yet another heart attack within the next eight years.  On the other hand, perceiving benefits and gains from an initial heart attack, including becoming more appreciative of life, was related to a reduced risk for subsequent attack.
  9. Keeping a gratitude journal was associated with better long-term emotional and physical health in transplant recipients. (Study at U of Pittsburgh,–measurable differences at one year post-heart transplant).   
  10. Pessimistic cancer patients do not survive as long as their more optimistic counterparts
  11. Psychologist Sheldon Cohen at Carnegie-Mellon found that, positive emotions produced by gratitude created less sensitivity to pain and greater pain tolerance.  Positive emotions stimulate the release of the brain’s own morphinelike substances.
  12. A 35-year longitudinal study of male Harvard students found significantly less disease at midlife in the optimists.
  13. Mayo clinic study found pessimists have shorter life span.  Optimists had a 50% lower risk of premature death.
  14. Dutch study—those who reported high levels of optimism had a 55% lower risk of death from all causes and a 23% lower risk of cardiovascular death.
  15. Dr Rollin McCarty found that when people consciously experience appreciation and gratitude, they can restore the natural rhythms of their heart!
  16. Electrical pulses of the heart are twice as strong as the brain.  Magnetic field is 50 times more powerful.  Thankful heart rhythms can measurably be felt by others—affecting their heart rhythms, up to 5 feet away!
  17. Studies show enhanced immunity and hormonal balance. Focusing on gratitude for 15 minutes a day, resulted in a significant increase in levels of immunoglobulin, the predominant antibody that serves as the body’s first line of defense against viruses. 

Intellectual Benefits:  Problem-solving ability increases.

  1. We become more expansive.  Our outlook becomes more inclusive.  We tend to see things as bigger-picture.  Participants in a gratitude study were able to solve 40% more tri-bond puzzles in a given amount of time.   
  2. More creative

Psychological Benefits: Gratitude participants were measurably more helpful and charitable

  1. Were measurably more self-confident
  2. Had better self-control.
  3. Showed greater self-regulatory and coping abilities.
  4. Showed increased resilience in the face of trauma-induced stress.
  5. Practicing gratitude caused a 23% reduction in the stress hormone cortisol and a 100% increase in a hormone known as DHEA (which reflects a state of physiological relaxation). 
  6. Led to increased feelings of connectedness, improved relationships, and even altruism. 
  7. Had better relationships, were more likely to protect and preserve these relationships, were more securely attached.
  8. Gratitude journalers were less lonely.   
  9. Arlie Hochschild wrote about an “economy of gratitude” in marriages: When couples struggle, it is seldom over who does what.  Far more often, it is over the giving and receiving of gratitude.  Troubled marriages are characterized by a significantly greater counting of complaints than counting of blessings.  According to the positivity ratio, a desirable goal is at least five blessings for every one complaint.
  10. Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson of UNC reports that positive emotions are physiologically beneficial because they “undo” the harmful effects of negative emotions by restoring physiological and emotional balance.
  11. “Hatred cannot coexist with loving-kindness, and dissipates if supplanted with thoughts based on loving-kindness.  You cannot be grateful and resentful at the same time— or forgiving and vengeful.  When we are savoring the moment, we cannot be regretting the past.  The parts of the brain that are active when positive emotions are experienced are not the parts of the brain that are active when the person feels depressed, or anxious.  The left prefrontal region is more active in happiness, whereas the right prefrontal region is more active during negative emotions. 
  12. By way of contrast, ingratitude leads inevitably to a confining, restricting, and “shrinking” sense of self.
  13.  A number of attitudes are incompatible with a grateful outlook on life, including perceptions of victimhood, an inability to admit one’s shortcomings, a sense of entitlement, and an inability to admit that one is not self-sufficient.
  14. Depression has been shown to be strongly inversely related to gratitude.  The more grateful a person is, the less depressed they are.  The more depressed a person is, the less likely they are to go around feeling thankful for life.
  15. Phillip Watkins, clinical psychologist at Eastern Washington Univ. evaluated the gratitude status of individuals—he found that clinically depressed individuals showed significantly lower gratitude (nearly 50 percent less gratitude) than non-depressed controls.

Spiritual Benefits: Gratitude participants reported feeling closer to God.

  1. The poverty of affluence.  “If we are so rich, why aren’t we happy?”  Studies show that happiness can’t be bought. 
  2.  In the midst of our increasingly abundant culture, people don’t seem to be getting any happier, in fact, the misery index is rising (depression and suicide rate). 
  3. Consumerism fuels ingratitude.  As any advertiser knows, material strivings are fueled by upward social comparisons that promote feelings of deprivation and discontent. 
  4. Our research has shown that grateful people are less likely to base their happiness on material possessions, are less envious of others, and are less likely to measure success in terms of material gain.

Financial Impact:  What about net worth?  “A longitudinal study of college students found that happiness levels in college predicted income 16 years later.  The most cheerful students earned $25,000 more per year than their more dour classmates.”

  • Grateful emotions led to better clinical problem solving in doctors.  “After being given a small gift, internists made a more accurate diagnosis of liver disease in a hypothetical case than did doctors in a control group, who received no gift.” 

Albert Schweitzer called gratitude “the secret to life.  The greatest thing is to give thanks for everything.  He who has learned this knows what it means to live.”

I taught this lesson about gratitude journaling to our missionaries in the Dominican Republic.  A year later, I was still receiving gratitude letters from our missionaries, thanking me for teaching them to write a gratitude journal.  Here’s a sampling:

Elder Rondon

I write you to say thanks! Because today is my 365th day in writing in my gratitude journal. I heard from you the idea to start writing a year ago, and I can testify that my life changed completely since that. I wrote every single day since then and I can see the Lord’s hand in every blessing He gives me. – Elder Rondon

Thank you, Sister Douglas! I know that one of the reasons for my happiness is being grateful to the Lord and you have helped me a lot with this. -Elder Sotelo

I have continued my habit of writing in my gratitude journal every night.  I’ve also shared your thoughts and facts to help others see the blessings of starting one as well.  I’ve probably convinced at least 20 people to start the practice!  I can definitely see the increase in my happiness and that of others.  It just keeps spreading! – Sister Cornelison

I continue writing in my gratitude journal.  It is a legacy that I got from you and I will continue doing it forever because now it’s part of me. – Sis. Ozuna

It’s now been seven years.  I still receive gratitude from the missionaries who have made a gratitude journal apart of their daily lives!  Keeping a gratitude journal is one of the easiest ways to live a life of joy.

The Lord promises: He who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more . D&C 78:19 

 So, what have you got to lose??  Start the simple practice of writing down 5 things you’re grateful for at the end of every day.  It takes me ten minutes, max!  The benefits are well worth the time spent.  Even small kids can do this.  Before prayers at night, my son has his 6-year-old and 4-year-old both tell one thing they’re grateful for.  They’re setting the stage for a happy, healthy, successful and spiritually blessed life!

(Scientific research conducted and compiled by Dr. Robert Emmons, and Dr. Michael McCullough, U of Miami. Quotes are from their research.)