Positive psychology: the perks of being grateful

Students applaud Dr. Philip Watkins during the psychology sumposium.
Students applaud Dr. Philip Watkins during the psychology sumposium.

In 50 minutes, Dr. Philip Watkins taught a room full of people the secret to a happier and healthier life in the “Positive Psychology” Symposium on Thursday, November 12.  

The symposium focused on the importance and effects of gratitude, a trait that researchers have found to be essential for the good life.

As a published researcher and Professor of Psychology at Eastern Washington University, Dr. Watkins has been focusing his research on gratitude and happiness for the last 10 years. His current research program’s general purpose is to investigate how gratitude enhances happiness.

He has written articles published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, the Journal of Clinical and Consulting Psychology, and the Journal of Positive Psychology, with research being featured in popular media outlets like Psychology Today, Self Redbook, Ladies Home Journal and The Washington Post.

From the very beginning of his presentation, Watkins made the audience think. They were told to write down any emotion words they could think of and count how many words were positive and how many were negative.

“Most people end up having more negative words than positive ones,” he said, followed by smirks and nods of agreements from individuals in the audience. People noticed their already negative outlooks.

Gratitude has recently shown strong associations with subjective wellbeing and an increase in happiness, bringing it to the forefront of research in positive psychology: a branch of psychology that develops theories and practices involving human happiness.

Studies show that grateful people are happier, healthier, less stressed, more satisfied with their lives and social relationships, have more positive ways of coping with the difficulties they experience, and sleep better than compared to other people.

Watkins explained that there are three pillars of a grateful person.

The first pillar of a grateful person is a sense of abundance or lack a sense of deprivation. They have more than enough of what they need in their life.

Second, a grateful person has an appreciation of simple pleasures. “Do you really need to go to Maui to be happy?” said Watkins. A grateful person can find happiness in what they already have around them.

Lastly, a grateful person has an appreciation of others, and an appreciation of what those others do for them.

How does one become a grateful person?

By being aware that you are mortal.

A recent study has shown that grateful people are more aware of their mortality, which can cause them to be appreciative of what they currently have. They also take care of themselves better.

Watkins asked the audience, “Does thinking about your own death make you appreciate your life more?” and gave them a moment to ponder.

“Gratitude is the amplifier of the good,” said Watkins. “Like a guitar amp that makes the music sound louder, or a magnifying glass that magnifies on an object to make it appear larger, gratitude brings out the goodness in people to make it larger, greater and stronger.”

The room was filled way over its maximum capacity, with people standing up against the walls and many others sitting on the ground, blocking entire walkways. Not everyone came in being happy, but everyone left knowing they could easily be, all in a mere 50 minutes.