With millions of Americans heading into the Thanksgiving weekend, many may find it hard to be grateful as they experience the crunch from the economic downturn.
"This has been a trying year for America, and many people are feeling added stress," says Dr. Robert Emmons, a leader of the positive psychology movement whose recently released book addresses the question "How can I be grateful when bad things happen to me?"
"But people who regularly practice gratitude will see improvements in areas such as relationships, energy level, academics and dealing with tragedy and crisis," he says.
According to Emmons, scientists often overlook the powerful emotion of gratitude, which he says is packed with benefits, leading to happier moods, better sleep and the ability to avoid emotions that cultivate bitterness, envy and depression.
In his book, Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier, the professor at the University of California in Davis and editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology claims that gratitude can increase a person's capacity for happiness by as much as 25 percent.
"Gratitude elevates, it energizes, it inspires, it transforms," Emmons writes in the first chapter of his book. "People are moved, opened, and humbled through experiences and expressions of gratitude. Gratitude provides life with meaning by encapsulating life itself as a gift. Without gratitude, life can be lonely, depressing, impoverished."
Furthermore, gratitude is more than just an emotion or mood, as it is often depicted as.
"Gratitude is a choice," says Emmons.
And once it is put into practice, anyone can begin to immensely improve their quality of life, starting where they are right now, he adds.
"I conclude that gratitude can indeed be cultivated in a positive way," Emmon writes, "and that it can become a critical component of human happiness."
After exploring the basis of gratitude as well as ingratitude in the first few chapters, Emmons presents in the last chapter of the book a discussion of some exercises he recommends readers use to increase their gratitude and consequently, to enrich their lives.
He includes examples of practical strategies, such as keeping a gratitude journal, learning prayers of gratitude and using visual reminders.
"The evidence that cultivating gratefulness is good for you is overwhelming," he claims.
But Emmons points out that gratitude is more than a tool for self-improvement.
"Gratitude is a way of life," he says.
Published by Mariner Books, Thanks! is a 256-page paperback available wherever books are sold. Much of the research reported in the book was supported through generous grants from the John Templeton Foundation.