by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar

Gratefulness is a measure of our aliveness. Are we not dead to whatever we take for granted? Surely to be numb is to be dead.
—David Steindl-Rast

The word appreciate has two meanings. The first is to be thankful—the opposite of taking something for granted—and the second is to increase in value, the way we say that assets appreciate when their value rises. When it comes to the role that appreciation plays in our life, both these meanings are relevant. Psychological research has repeatedly shown that when we are thankful for the good in our life, the good grows and we have more of it. The opposite, sadly, is also true: When we fail to appreciate the good, when we take it for granted, the good depreciates.

You might want to keep a gratitude journal, writing down five things for which you are grateful before you go to bed each night. Or you might simply make an effort to notice three good things as you go about your daily routine. By becoming aware of all that you are blessed with, by appreciating the good, more good things are likely to come your way.

Psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough conducted a series of studies in which they asked participants to write down on a daily basis at least five things for which they were grateful. The items listed each day didn’t have to be important and profound (although they could be); they could be trivial pleasures or fleeting experiences. Participants’ responses included everything from their parents to the Rolling Stones, from waking up in the morning to God.

Taking a minute each day to express gratitude turns out to have far-reaching consequences. Compared to the control group, the “grateful group” not only became more appreciative but also enjoyed higher levels of well-being and positive emotions: These individuals felt happier, more determined, more energetic, and more optimistic. They were also more generous and more likely to offer support to others. Finally, those who expressed gratitude also slept better, exercised more, and experienced fewer symptoms of physical illness.

How can it be that simply taking some time to appreciate the good in our life has such major positive effects? Emmons and McCullough suggest that being grateful triggers a positive spiral of growth and well-being. When you think of all you can be grateful for, when you take stock, you feel better. When you feel better, you become more open to—and are more likely to notice and pursue—positive experiences. You then have more to be grateful for, which in turn improves the quality of your life, and so on. You can begin this positive spiral of happiness at any moment by choosing to reflect on the things for which you are grateful.

When you appreciate the good, the good appreciates.

This post is excerpted from Choose the Life You Want: The Mindful Way to Happiness, by Tal Ben-Shahar, PhD. Copyright ©2012, The Experiment, LLC.

Learn more about gratitude and positive psychology in The Certificate in Positive Psychology with Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar.

Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, Co-founder of WholeBeing Institute, is an author and lecturer who taught the largest course at Harvard on “Positive Psychology” and the third largest on “The Psychology of Leadership”—with a total of over 1,400 students. Author of Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, he consults and lectures around the world to corporate executives, the general public, and at-risk populations on topics that include happiness, self-esteem, resilience, goal setting, mindfulness, and leadership. He holds a doctorate in organizational behavior and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and psychology from Harvard.