A Most Powerful Character Trait
Michael J. Montegut, PhD Bottom of the Box, LLC
"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend."
— Melody Beattie
Strong character traits bolster resilience and sense of fulfillment. The queen of those traits is gratitude; bested in survey rankings only by kindness, fairness, and authenticity [Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2006]. One can activate this royal trait with simple and fun exercises. The magnitude of the results almost always surprises people. The results are two-fold, the person who is expressing appreciation benefits and, if there is a recipient of the gratitude, that person also experiences a lift. I have found that sincere expressions of gratitude are the magic keys that open doors and hearts.
Hope and fulfillment strengthen resilience and feed other character traits like kindness, authenticity, curiosity, humor, hope, persistence, self-regulation, among others [Peterson & Seligman, 2004]. Positive Psychologists have created a variety of exercises to help build up certain character traits. By measuring overall well being (via surveys) before and after engaging in trait strengthening exercises, scientists can determine what character traits are improved and by how much. The various character traits have different effects on our overall happiness and, as a result, resilience. Gratitude is powerful because it results in some of the most significant gains in fulfillment and resilience [Watkins, Van Gelder, & Frias, 2009].
Empirical research shows that several simple exercises effectively exercise gratitude, and most result in genuinely amazing increases in well being and resilience. In the Bottom of the Box, LLC, Bounce Workshop, we devote an entire class to gratitude. It is that powerful and critical. There are several gratitude exercises that psychologists use to increase peoples’ ability to express thanks in meaningful ways. Things like counting one’s blessings [Emmons & McCullough, 2003], gratitude letters [Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005], and grateful coping [Watkins, Cruz, Holben, & Kolts, 2008] all help to increase fulfillment, happiness, and resilience. We teach a couple of these exercises to our Bounce Workshop students.
For me, I find that keeping a gratitude journal and carefully constructing messages of thanks are both effective in keeping me on an even keel and strong. Keeping a gratitude journal is not that hard, and I find that writing things down allows for more intentionality. As for writing short notes of gratitude, it just takes a little extra time and focuses on another for a few minutes. I find that this allows me to savor my gratitude and thoughts of the lovely qualities of the person I am thanking. This savoring is, in and of itself, an activity that fuels personal fulfillment [Bryant & Veroff, J. 2007].
Though it may seem like extra work in this busy world, as with many things in life, it is just about practice. I tell my students this all the time. The 10 minutes a day to journal and the few extra minutes to intentionally thank others will bring benefits to your life (and the other persons’) that far outweighs the time cost. I include a few examples below the reference section. As I mentioned above, gratitude is one of the significant character traits in the exercising of resilience, and so we spend a lot of time on it in our teen residence (Bounce) workshops. I recommend readers give journaling a try and pay attention to how you thank others. I am sure after a few days; you will be amazed at the results.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. New
York: Oxford University Press; Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Park, N., Peterson, C., & Selignam, M. E. P. (2006). Character strength in 54 nations and all 50 states. Journal of
Positive Psychology, 1:3, 118 - 129. Watkins, P. C., Van Gelder, M., & Frias, A. (2009). Furthering the science of gratitude. In R. Snyder & S. Lopez
(Eds.), Oxford handbook of positive psychology [2nd ed., pp. 437 - 445). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings vs burdens: An empirical investigation of
gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377 - 389. Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical validation
of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410 - 421. Bryant, F. B., & Veroff, J. (2007). Savoring: A new model of positive experience. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates