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13 September, 2009

The New Science of Thank You

The two most important words you’ll say today can change your life, and research is proving it.
By Deborah Norville, From

Making Progress

Some days, you just want to stay in bed and hope the world forgets you exist. David Patrick Columbia was having one of those days. New to New York City, he was worn down by the hustle and bustle, no longer excited and proud about relocating to Manhattan, as he had been weeks earlier. He’d imagined himself a hot young talent taking the magazine world by storm, only to end up doing grunt work as a low-level assistant on a barely-making-it salary. He couldn’t afford his own place and felt uncomfortable sponging off a friend.

“I was rethinking everything—my ability as a writer, my career choice,” he recalls. That Saturday morning, he wanted to stay in bed. But no, he had to fetch a photo for work.

It was cold, gray and damp when David headed across town. “I don’t know what possessed me, but I decided to start counting things along the way that made me happy,” he says. “I just wanted to see how many pleasing things I came across.”

First on his list: a mother walking her baby, all bundled up in a stroller. “That little face just made me smile,” he says. Then he saw a jet in the sky. “Flying has always captivated me.” And so it went. From the sizzling smells at bistros to eye-catching store-window displays, David acknowledged one thing after another that brightened his mood. By the time he picked up that photo, he was feeling thankful he’d made the move to the Big Apple.

“I was reminded that I lived in an exciting, interesting and invigorating place,” he says. “Whenever I’m feeling down, I do this. It makes me feel better.” It’s been more than 20 years since David took his “walk of thanks” across Manhattan. Now he’s a successful entrepreneur in the media business and says his gratitude stroll helps him stay focused to this day.

What if, instead of wallowing in our misery, we all chose to focus on being valued by a dear friend, for example, or the memory of a colleague’s face when she receives a surprise birthday cake at work, or the smooth ride we’ve had to work in the past week? As science is now proving, feeling grateful can actually make us healthier, literally. Practicing gratitude, acknowledging the blessings in our lives and making it a point to recognize the good things can change us positively. We’ll sleep better and exercise more. We’ll feel more optimistic. We’ll be more alert and active. And if we do this over a period of time, we’ll realize that we’re making progress toward our life goals.

A Higher Quality of Life

What David Patrick Columbia discovered in his own life, Robert Emmons, PhD, has proved in his lab. A professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, Emmons has long been interested in the role gratitude plays in physical and emotional well-being.

Along with psychology professor Michael McCullough of the University of Miami, Emmons took three groups of volunteers and randomly assigned them to focus on one of three things each week: hassles, things for which they were grateful, and ordinary life events. The first group concentrated on everything that went wrong or was irritating to them, such as “the jerk who cut me off on the highway.” The second group homed in on situations they felt enhanced their lives, as in “My boyfriend is so kind and caring—I’m lucky to have him.” And the third group recalled recent everyday events, as in “I went shoe shopping.”

The results: The people who focused on gratitude were just flat-out happier. They saw their lives in favorable terms. They reported fewer negative physical symptoms such as headaches or colds, and they were active in ways that were good for them. They spent almost an hour and a half more per week exercising than those who focused on hassles. Plain and simple, those who were grateful had a higher quality of life.

Others around them recognized that too. “They noticed that these people had more joy, more energy. They could see that they were becoming more optimistic,” says Emmons. The grateful group “even seemed to be perceived as more helpful toward others, going out on a limb to help people.” Emmons was surprised by this result. “This is not just something that makes people happy, like a positive-thinking/optimism kind of thing. A feeling of gratitude really gets people to do something, to become more pro-social, more compassionate.” This did not happen in either of the other two groups. Emmons and McCullough took their study, published in 2003, one step further. Rather than focus on hassles or blessings on just a weekly basis, they rounded up college students to do it every day. The researchers asked for specific personal details as well: how many alcoholic drinks the volunteers had, how many aspirin or other pain relievers they took, the quantity and quality of their sleep. They also asked volunteers to compare themselves with others: Are you better of worse off?

If you were going to have dinner with anyone, you’d want someone from the gratitude group at your table. Right off the bat, Emmons and his team recognized that there was something powerful about a regular gratitude check. And in a follow-up study, those who found something to appreciate every day were less materialistic— less apt to see a connection between life satisfaction and material things. They were more willing to part with their possessions. The bumper sticker that reads “The one with the most toys wins” was unlikely to be found on any of their cars.

Amplify Positive Feelings

The grateful people were less depressive, envious and anxious, and much more likely to help others, a fact not lost on those around them. When others were asked their impressions of the daily-gratitude students, they generally judged the students as empathetic, helpful and pro-social, more likely to put themselves out for others. The study found that the people who were consciously grateful:

-- Felt better about their lives.
-- Were more optimistic.
-- Were more energetic.
-- Were more enthusiastic.
-- Were more determined.
-- Were more interested.
-- Were more joyful.
-- Exercised more.
-- Had fewer illnesses.
-- Got more sleep.
-- Were more likely to have helped someone else.

Related studies have found other benefits as well, all of which could arguably be linked to a grateful mind-set: clearer thinking, better resilience during tough times, higher immune response, less likelihood of being plagued by stress, longer lives, closer family ties, greater religiousness.

Along with thinner thighs and six-pack abs, this is a fairly comprehensive list of what most of us would wish for in life. “I have studied a lot of topics in the nearly 25 years since I’ve been in graduate school, and no topic has gotten more interest from people than this. It’s exciting,” says Emmons.

But the science doesn’t stop there. After being given a little bag of candies, doctors in a study conducted by psychologist Alice M. Isen, a Cornell University professor, were better able to process the facts of difficult medical cases and to think outside the box about what might be causing the ailments. It turns out that this way of being thanked—by receiving a small sweet-had a big payoff.

“The doctors who got the candy didn’t jump to conclusions,” Isen says. “They realized quickly what the domain of the illness was, and they were correct. But they continued to check their diagnosis against new information as it came in.” The doctors who received no candy at all were less likely to be as methodical.

Isen’s hypothesis is that the good feelings generated by something as simple as an expression of appreciation intervene in the release of dopamine, the chemical in the brain associated with happiness. As Isen explains, dopamine is released when people are feeling good or are excited by a challenge. It activates the parts of the brain in which complex thinking and conflict resolution are thought to be headquartered.

Isen has also found that positive emotions make people more helpful to others. And since helping someone else makes people feel good about what they’ve done, the positive feelings continue and even amplify, creating more good feelings.

The Power of Gratitude

So how do we use all this science of gratitude in our lives? The power of gratitude takes just a few minutes a day. But it requires consistency and an open mind—and dedication. Says Emmons, “I think gratitude is a demanding quality, a rigorous quality. It’s a discipline, an exercise.” It may not come easily, but it can be developed. Here’s how:

Record your thanks.

Take a moment during the day—right before bedtime is usually best—to jot down three things that happened that day for which you are grateful. Anything that made you feel uplifted, that brought a smile to your face or your heart, or will contribute toward your future happiness, works.

After each situation or event for which you feel thankful, write down why this was good for you. Perhaps you received an e-mail from an old school friend who hadn’t been in touch for years, and this reminded you of the good times you had together. It forced you to realize that people think of you even though you’ve had no contact with them, which must mean you’re a pretty special person.

Also, make a note of who, if anyone, played a role in what you’ve recalled for the day and how that person had an impact on your life.

None of this sounds hard, right? Given the choice between this exercise and 50 sit-ups plus 25 push-ups, you’re much more inclined to pick up a pen, aren’t you?

The gratitude journal makes you look at life in a positive, concrete way, reminding you of its interconnectedness in a fast-paced, impersonal world and how much others add to the quality of your life. It forces you to focus on what went right instead of the inevitable things that went wrong. And it enhances your self-esteem.

See the patterns.

Over time, you’ll notice a consistency within the list of items you’re grateful for. Many entries will underscore the importance of people in your life. Others will highlight meaningful experiences. Still other items will be things that began with you, things you created that you can point to with pride and say, I made that happen. It’s called eudaemonia, the happiness or fulfillment that comes from the action itself, not the result of it. Any other benefits that come along—someone is grateful, your project is a success—are icing on the cake.

Catch the boomerang.

Gratitude, when expressed to others, almost always comes back around. People who feel appreciated are more willing to make an effort for those who make them feel valued. In one study, waitresses who simply wrote “thank you” on the check before handing it to their customers received, on average, 11 percent more in tips that those who didn’t. Waitresses who wrote a message about an upcoming dinner special on the checks also received higher tips—on average, 17 to 20 percent higher. In a world where personal connections seem increasingly limited, and sometimes stressful when they do occur, gratitude resonates.

Seize the moment.

Look around you: What’s right with your world? If you have a hobby, practice it. If you don’t, find one. Reach out to others; share something. A small gesture toward another individual costs you little but can bring many benefits. All these actions increase your opportunities to feel grateful.

Says Barbara Fredrickson, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina, “Gratitude has the potential to change everything from its ordinary state to being a gift.

Now, that’s saying a lot.

Grace Notes

The etymology of the word gratitude helps explain it. Gratitude originates from the Latin word gratus—meaning “thankful, pleasing”—which has its roots in gratia, which means “favor, pleasing quality or goodwill.” Derivatives of the Latin root can be found in many other languages. In Lithuanian, gririu means “to praise or celebrate.” In the 13th century, the short prayer before a meal came to be called grace. And in Greek, the word for “grace” is charis—the root of the word charisma.

02 September, 2009


If our lives are unhappy, or if we are feeling unfulfilled, it’s very easy to blame our parents, or them, and say it’s all their fault. However, if we do, we stay stuck in our conditions, our problems, and our frustrations. Words of blame will not bring us freedom. Remember, there is power in our words. Again, our power comes from taking responsibility for our lives. I know it sounds scary to be responsible for our lives, but we really are, whether we accept it or not. If we want to be responsible for our lives, we’ve got to be responsible for our mouths. The words and phrases we say are extension of our thoughts.

Start to listen to what you say. If you hear yourself using negative or limiting words, change them. If I hear negative story, I don’t go around repeating it to everyone. I think it has gone far enough, and let it go. If I hear a positive story, however, I will tell everyone.

When you are out with other people, begin to listen to what they say and how they say it. See if you can connect what they say and with what they are experiencing in life. Many, many people live their lives in shoulds. Should is a word that my ear is very attuned to. It is as if a bell goes off every time I hear it. Often, I will hear people use a dozen shoulds in a paragraph. These same people wonder why their lives are so rigid so why they can’t move out of a situation. They want a lot of control over things that they cannot control. They are either making themselves wrong or making someone else wrong. And then they question why they aren’t living lives of freedom.

We can also remove the expression of have to from our vocabulary, and our thinking as well. When we do, we will release a lot of self-imposed pressure on ourselves. We create tremendous pressure by saying, “I have to go to work. I have to do this. I have to…….. I have to………” Instead, let’s begin to say choose to. “I choose to work because it pays the rent right now.” Choose to puts a whole different perspective on our lives. Everything we do is by choice even though it may not seem to be so.

A lot of us also use the word but. We make statements, then we say but, which heads us in two different directions. We give conflicting messages to ourselves. Listen to how you use the word but the next time you speak.

Another expression we need to be mindful of is don’t’ forget. We’re so used to saying, “Don’t forget this or that,” and what happens? We forget. We really want to remember and instead we forget, so we can begin to use the phrase please remember in the place of don’t forget.

Observe Your Self-Talk
When you wake up in the morning, do you curse the fact that you have to go to work? Do you complain about the weather? Do you grumble that your back or head hurts? What is the second thing and the third thing you think or say? Do you yell at the children to get up? Most people say more or less the same thing every morning. How does what you say start your day? Is it positive and cheerful and wonderful? Or is it whining and condemning? If you grumble and complain and moan, you’re setting yourself up for such a day.

What are your last thoughts before going to bed? Are they powerful healing thoughts or poverty worrying thoughts? When I speak of poverty thoughts, I don’t only mean about the lack of money. It can be a negative way of thinking about anything in your life—any part of your life that is not flowing freely. Do you worry about tomorrow? Usually, I will read something positive before I go to sleep. I am aware that when I sleep I am doing a lot of clearing that will prepare me for the next day.

I find it very helpful to turn over to my dreams any problems or questions I may have. I know my dreams will help me take care of whatever is going in my life.

I am the only person who can think in my mind, just like you are the only person who can think in your mind. Nobody can force us to think in a different way. We choose our thoughts, and these are the basis for our self-talk. As I experienced how this process worked more in my life, I began to live more of what I was teaching others. I really watched my words and my thoughts and I constantly forgave myself for not being perfect. I allowed myself to be me, rather than struggling to be a super persons who may only be acceptable in other’s eyes.

When I began for the first time to trust life and to see it as a friendly place, I lightened up. My humour became less biting and more truly funny. I worked on releasing criticism and judgment of myself and other people, and I stopped telling disaster stories. We are so quick to spread bad news. It’s just amazing. I stopped reading the newspaper and gave up the 11 o’clock news at night, because all the reports were concerned with disaster and violence, and there was very little good news. They love to hear bad news, so they have something to complain about. Too many of us keep recycling the negative stories until we believe that there is only bad in the world. For a while, there was a radio station that broadcast only good news. It went out of business.

When I had my cancer, I decided to stop gossiping, and to my surprise, I found I had nothing to say to anyone. I became aware that whenever I met a friend, I would immediately dish the latest dirt with them. Eventually I discovered there were other ways of talking, although it wasn’t an easy habit to break. Nonetheless, if I gossiped about other people, then other people probably gossiped about me, because what we give out we get back.

As I worked more and more with people, I really began to listen to what they said. I really began to hear the words, not just get the general drift. Usually, after ten minutes with a new client, I could tell exactly why they had a problem because I could hear the words they were using. I could understand them by the way they were talking. I knew that their words were contributing their problems. If they were talking negatively, imagine what their self-talk was like? It must be more of the same negative programming—poverty thinking—as I called it.

A little exercise I suggest you do is to put a tape recorder by your telephone, and every time you make or get a call, push the record button. When the tap is full on both sides, listen to what you have been saying and how you say it. You will probably be amazed. You will begin to hear the words you use and the inflection of your voice. You will begin to become aware. If you find yourself saying something three times or more, write it down because it is a pattern. Some of the patterns may be positive and supportive, and you also may have some very negative patterns that you repeat over and over again.

The Power of the Subconscious Mind

In the light of what I’ve been speaking of, I want to discuss the power of our subconscious minds. Our subconscious minds make no judgments. The subconscious mind accepts everything we say and creates according to our beliefs. It always says yes. Our subconscious minds love us enough to give us what we declare. We have choice, though. If we choose these poverty beliefs and concepts, then it is assumed that we want them. It will continue to give us these things until we are willing to change our thoughts and words and beliefs for the better. We are never stuck because we can always choose again. There are billions and billions of thoughts from which to choose.

Our subconscious minds don’t know true from false or right from wrong. We don’t want to deprecate ourselves in any way. We don’t want to say something like, “Oh stupid, old me,” because the subconscious mind will pick this self-talk up, and after a while you will feel that way. If you say it enough times, it will become a belief in your subconscious.

The subconscious mind has no sense of humor, and it is important for you to know and understand this concept. You cannot make a joke about yourself and think it doesn’t mean anything. If it is a put-down about yourself, even if you are trying to be cute or funny about it, the subconscious mind accepts it as true. I don’t let people tell put-down jokes in my workshops. They can be raunchy but not put-downs of a nationality or sex or whatever.

So don’t joke about yourself and make derogatory remarks about yourself because they will not create good experiences for you. Don’t belittle others either. The subconscious mind doesn’t distinguish between you and the other person. It hears the words, and it believes you are talking about yourself. The next time you want to criticize someone, ask why you feel that way about yourself. You only see in others what you see in yourself. Instead of criticizing others, praise them, and within a month, you will see an enormous change within you.

Our words are really a matter of approach and attitude. Notice the way that lonely, unhappy, poor, sick people talk. What words do they use? What have they accepted as the truth for themselves? How do they describe themselves? How do they describe their work, their lives, their relationships? What do they look forward to? Be aware of their words, but please don’t run around telling strangers that they are ruining their lives by the way they talk. Don’t do it to your family and friends either because the information will not be appreciated. Instead, use this information to begin to make the connection for yourself, and practice it if you want your life to change, because even on the smallest level, if you change the way you talk, your experiences are going to change.

If you are a person with an illness, who believes that it is fatal and that you are going to die and that life is no good because nothing ever works for you, then guess what?

You can choose to release your negative concept of life. Start affirming for yourself that you are a person who is lovable and that you are worth healing, and that you attract everything you need on the physical level to contribute to your healing. Know that you are willing to get well and that it is safe for you to get well.

Many people only feel safe when they are sick. They are usually the kind that have difficulty saying the word no. The only way they can say no is by saying, “I’m too sick to do it. It’s a perfect excuse. I remember a woman at one of my workshops who had three cancer operations. She couldn’t say no to any body. Her father was a doctor, and she was daddy’s good little girl, so whatever daddy told her to do, she did. It was impossible for her to say no. No matter what you asked her, she had to say yes. It took four days to get her to literally shriek “No!” at the top of her lungs. I had her do it while shaking her fist. “No, No, No.” Once she got into it, she loved it.

I find that many women with breast cancer can’t say no. They nourish everybody except themselves. One of the things I recommend to a woman with breast cancer is that she must learn to say, “No, I don’t want to do it. No!” Two or three months of saying no to everything will begin to turn things around. She needs to nourish herself by saying, “This is what I want to do, not what you want me to do!”

When I used to work with clients privately, I would hear them argue on behalf of their limitations, and they would always want me to know why they were stuck because of one reason or another. If we believe we are stuck, and accept that we are stuck, then we are stuck. We get “stuck” because our negative beliefs are being fulfilled. Instead let’s begin to focus on our strengths.

Many of you tell me that my tapes saved your lives. I want you to realize that no book or tape is going to save you. A little peace of tape in a plastic box is not saving your life. What you are doing with the information is what matters. I can give you plenty of ideas, yet what you do with them is going to count. I suggest you listen to a particular tape over and over again for a month or so that the ideas become a new habit pattern. I ‘m not your healer or savior. The only person who is going to make a change in your life is “you”.


Source: Excerpt from the book “The Power is Within You” written by Louise L. Hay.
Louise L. Hay is a metaphysical lecturer and teacher and the bestselling author of numerous books. Her works have been translated into 29 different languages in 35 countries throughout the world. For more than 25 years, Louise has assisted millions of people in discovering and using the full potential of their own creative powers for personal growth and self-healing. Louise is the founder and chairman of Hay House, Inc., a publishing company that disseminates books, audios, and videos that contribute to the healing of the planet.