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SALT LAKE CITY — Gratitude may be the key to happiness.
Despite the floppy-haired young man who looked like he should be skateboarding instead of dishing out research statistics, a new video caught my attention because it is about a subject in which I am keenly interested: the science of gratitude.
In the video, the young man reported research that suggests the more we express and feel gratitude, the happier we are. The video highlights an experiment done with participants who increased 4 percent - 19 percent in self-reported happiness after phoning the person who had been most influential in their life and reading their grateful thoughts to them.
Psychology professors and researchers Robert A. Emmons of UC Davis and Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami published remarkable research in the field of measuring happiness and well-being. In one study, they followed two subject groups: one that kept a gratitude journal and one that did not. Those who made a "gratitude" entry in their journal at least once a week reported fewer physical maladies, had a better sense of well-being, exercised more regularly, and held a more optimistic outlook than those who did not journal.
I began a gratitude journal, making almost-daily entries since September of 2011. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, so many people fell into despair and pessimism about our country's future. I decided instead to look at the beauty that was ever-present in the world and celebrate the good each day. I've written everything from "I am thankful for six new baby chicks" to "I am grateful for the way Christmas music brings such a great spirit of joy into our home." By doing this simple exercise, I focus each day on what is right with me and my world. I feel happy — truly happy.
Here are some ideas from Harvard Medical School's online medical publication to capture happiness through gratitude:
Write a thank-you note. You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person's impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person, if possible. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month. Once in a while, write one to yourself.
Thank someone mentally. No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you and mentally thank the individual.
Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one thoughts about the gifts you've received each day.
Count your blessings. Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings, reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.
Pray. People who are religious can use prayer to cultivate gratitude.
Meditate. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Although people often focus on a word or phrase (such as "peace"), it is also possible to focus on what you're grateful for (the warmth of the sun, a pleasant sound, etc.). JULIE K. NELSON is the author of "Parenting With Spiritual Power," a speaker, and professor at Utah Valley University. Her website is www.nelsonjuliek.com where she writes articles on the joys, challenges, and power of parenting.