November 23, 2016

Watchworthy Wednesday: Gratitude Increases Well-being

Category: Digital Citizenship
world gratitude map with red dots

As Americans gather to celebrate Thanksgiving Day tomorrow, people around the globe can take part in giving thanks through free online projects that aim to boost well-being and resilience year-round.

Crowd-Sourced Gratitude Map

Some 23,000 people from 100 countries so far have posted notes about what they’re grateful for on the World Gratitude Map, a crowd-sourcing project founded by Jacqueline Lewis five years ago. It, Lewis said, “encourages users to document and celebrate the good things in life and helps keep their eyes on all that’s good and beautiful and possible in the world.”

A few posts:

polio messageSomeone in Nigeria uploaded a photo and this message: “Great progress in Nigeria — 2 years without polio! By reaching all children with vaccines, we can #endpolio for good.”

A woman in Texline exclaimed: “Hi Texas! A deep hearted thank you to all of the folks who graciously welcomed me into their homes over the last couple of months! What a journey it’s been.”

Heather in Nairobi wrote: “I am thankful to work for a Kenyan tech company and have people like you deploy our software to promote gratitude. I am thankful for little baby elephants that teach us about beauty and love.”

Someone in San Francisco noted: “Thankful someone special got a great new job in SF closer to home so glad he’ll have a steady paycheck and put that MIT degree to work.”

A parent in Bristol shared: “Completely grateful everyday for my beautiful, wonderful and amazing daughter.”

Someone in Berlin posted a video, links to resources for victims of domestic violence and this note: “Thank you Emily Reynolds for this article. Grateful to you and to everyone fighting to shine light on Domestic violence — the folk who write about it, the folk who fight about it.”

Lewis, a writer who studies resilience, said anyone can add a dot on the map by posting their message of gratitude or, just scan the map and be inspired by what others are saying.

“I like to say gratitude makes your hair shiny and your jeans fit better,” Lewis said. “It’s true! There is an ever increasing body of hard scientific research that gratitude improves one’s physical and mental health. Gratitude fosters human connectedness and bolsters the immune system. It makes you sleep better and increases subjective well-being and self-confidence. It increases resilience so you can better overcome trauma. Gratitude literally makes us more likeable. That’s what’s in it for us. But, gratitude at the macro level also knits communities together, heals divisiveness and reduces violence.”

This Thanksgiving, she added, “when the country can seem as divided as we’ve seen it, when the world can seem a dangerous and frightening place, a gratitude practice can be the first step toward peace and unity. It’s easy to list reasons to be grateful when everything is going well. But, the real test — and the real value — comes from a conscious effort to list reasons to be grateful even when, especially when, we don’t feel grateful at all.”

Lewis noted that crowdmaps have been used to measure and quantify election fraud, violence and crime, so “why not leverage that technology to measure the good in the world instead? There is good happening everywhere, just waiting to be noticed. What we have in common is so much greater than our differences. We are bound by our common humanity. The map reminds us that we are connected across the globe by the same values, needs, desires. We love our families. We value our health, especially when it is threatened. We appreciate the little things, food, kind words, warm baths, and the larger things, running water, safety.”

Mindful Gratitude Map

MindUP, a Hawn Foundation program that teaches mindfulness practices to help children improve learning and academic performance and learn social and emotional skills that build personal resilience, also offers an interactive gratitude map that encourages people to post notes of thanks. Like the World Gratitude Map, users are encouraged to share what makes them thankful and browse the map to read what others appreciate.

Some posts:

Anna in Germany is grateful for “the influence a warmhearted smile can have on other people; we all smile in the same language!”

Marga in India is grateful for “Madhavi Kapur — she founded her own school to deeply reflect those values she believed in: education for all levels of society, inclusiveness, creativity — and ongoing learning for the teachers and all members of the school who worked with her.”

Carre in Texas is grateful for “my loving family, that I am a nurse, my cats, warm weather and clean air in Austin.”

Patti in Alaska is grateful for “kindness and curiosity.”

Public Journal of Thanks

If maps aren’t your thing, the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley offers Thnx4, a digital gratitude journal that anyone anywhere can access to express appreciation. The journal draws on two decades of research, suggesting that people who regularly feel grateful report better health, reduce their risk of heart disease, get better sleep, strengthen feelings of connection and satisfaction in their relationships and feel more satisfied with their lives, more joy and optimism and less anxiety.

Thnx4 this month launched a 21-day gratitude challenge which prompts people to record what they are thankful for daily for three weeks. The goal is to promote the practice of gratitude and raise awareness about its research-based benefits.

Some entries:

From Patti S: “She felt I ‘had her back.’ It really touched me that she thanked me — I was not expecting it!”

From Jenn: “My daughter wrote me the sweetest Thanksgiving letter. She thanked me for things I do for her and for always being there for her. It made me cry and was so touching. I’ll keep it forever! It made me feel wonderful and loved.”

From kauclair: “I brought in a presenter on a topic that I thought would be of interest to my staff. I felt great that my staff members who attended felt that they could use what they learned right away and that this had a positive impact on them.”

From clustik: “I’m currently caring for parents and my father is eternally pissed off. My sister-in-law called just to offer a friendly voice and support today. That acknowledgement really meant a lot. Mentally, it really helped me to feel supported.”

From Leo030891: “I’m thankful to my mom. She always supported me and cared for me more than any other person in this world.”

Research shows that regularly expressing gratitude can have profound benefits on one’s social, emotional, and physical well-being. And, Thnx4 and the gratitude maps make it easier to record moments of thankfulness when they happen.

According to UC Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons, gratitude carries powerful benefits to our mental, physical, and social health because “it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.”

Gratitude strengthens our relationships, he says, “because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.” It also “has the power to heal, to energize and to change lives.”

In this video, Emmons calls gratitude a “celebration” and explains why it matters:

What are you thankful for?

Banner image: screenshot of World Gratitude Map