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(Book Review) Gratitude: How to Appreciate Life’s Gifts

By on December 16, 2010 – 10:50 am  2 Comments

Aaron Jarden is a lecturer in psychology at the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, president of the New Zealand Association of Positive Psychology, and lead investigator of the International Wellbeing Study. Aaron's primary area of research investigates the relationships between personal values and wellbeing. Aaron's articles are here.



This book is a collection of 20 edited articles on the topic of gratitude, previously published on the PPND. These short articles, written mostly by scholars of Masters of Applied Positive Psychology programs, are each complemented by discussion comments posted online by readers.
 

The 20 articles are organized into six distinct themes (The Value of Gratitude, Gratitude Practices, An Appreciative Eye, Gratitude Holidays, Gifts and Gratitude, and Gratitude in the Family), which when taken together, traverse the scope, use and practice of gratitude. This book has three distinct strengths: its writing style, scope, and general usefulness.

BOOK REVIEW: Gratitude: How to Appreciate Life’s Gifts edited by Kathryn Britton and Senia Maymin. Positive Psychology News, 2010

Writing style

The first striking strength of this book is its style. Whilst Robert Emmons book, Thanks!: How the new science of gratitude can make you happier remains the classic text, this book is more easily and quickly consumed – each topic is only a few pages in length, making it easy to pick up and put down. It is ideal for both individuals unfamiliar with the topic of gratitude, but also as a reminder for those who are familiar, as the articles are packed with many novel and practical examples of gratitude in practice.

These articles are purposefully not overly academic or over-simplistic. The book is pitched at a level somewhere in-between; the ideas are grounded in science, yet devoid of cumbersome research citations and jargon. Thus the style is eminently practical. In essence, PPND makes a growing body of empirical research available to a wide population so that it can make an impact in their lives, and this book continues that endeavor by communicating this information in a way that avoids the necessity to read weighty academic research papers.

Scope

Grateful sleep

Grateful sleep

Topics covered are novel and diverse, such as using gratitude at work, in restaurants with waiters, with children, during divorces, when praising, in gift giving, during organizational downsizing, even in psychiatric support facilities. This is a strength as some of these topics are very much at the periphery of the gratitude literature.
 

Nonetheless, over such an eclectic range of topics, gratitude is explained, discussed, and the benefits are outlined. For example, some of the diverse benefits of gratitude include better sleep, better relationships, better moods, and better study and work outcomes to name just a few.

Some of the common gratitude exercises are described, such as noting ‘Three Good Things’ at the end of the day, writing a gratitude journal, counting kindnesses, or writing a letter of gratitude to a person who has made a positive impact in your life. Additional exercises are also outlined such as practicing downward comparisons to increase feelings of gratefulness.

Gift Ideas

Gift Ideas

Useful
 

Another distinct advantage of this book is its general usefulness. The suggestions as to how to become more grateful are directly constructive. As the articles are available online, it is also easy to share these pearls of wisdom with others. For instance, it was a no-brainer to send my colleague who is getting married this weekend the link to the article on writing thank you notes, or my friend who was stuck on a gift to get his parents for Christmas the link to the article giving gifts for pleasure, engagement, or meaning.

Highlights

Talking about Gratitude

Talking about Gratitude

I enjoyed reading an interview with a mother and her seven year old son who was engaged in the Three Good Things exercise. His answers, and the adult translations, reminded me of the importance of the unique subjective experiences these exercises can provide.
 

Having just had some surgery myself, I enjoyed the article Facing Surgery with Gratitude which I read the day before my surgery and found beneficial. I also liked the perception that it’s more challenging to be grateful for things that don’t exist than things that do.

Many of the discussions that accompanied the articles, and the wisdom readers imparted, were also enlightening. For example, one reader pointed out the wisdom in allowing children to naturally express gratitude in their own unique way simply by asking them rather than imposing on them. Another reader highlighted bi-cultural aspects of gratitude, as did Timothy So’s chapter about gratitude for appropriate praise.

Summary
It’s well known that gratitude is good for you. Indeed, Sonya Lyubomirsky describes gratitude is a metastrategy for achieving happiness. This book highlights the key aspects of gratitude and simplifies the notion, yet also provides a blueprint for becoming more grateful. Three words spring to mind when I reflect on this book: practical, accessible, and succinct.

This book can be purchased from Amazon US or from an eStore.


 
References

Britton, K. & Maymin, S. (Eds.) (2010). Gratitude: How to Appreciate Life’s Gifts. Positive Psychology News.

Emmons, R. (2007) Thanks!: How the new science of gratitude can make you happier. Boston: Houghton Mifflan Company.

Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. New York: Penguin Books.

Kevin Gillespie drew the black-and-white illustrations for the book.

2 Comments »

  • Aaron

    Thank you for highlighting my article on Facing Surgery with Gratitude. I read your review on my birthday in the midst of an experimental ‘creating a beautiful birthday’ intervention! It fitted in perfectly!

    When I started using positive psychology interventions I was surprised at how many situations you can apply them in – my first experience of surgery was an example of applying positive psychology in extraordinary circumstances. It’s in moments like these where we’re reminded of our mortality and dependence on others, that gratitude flows.

    Thanks too to Kathryn Britton. Over one Saturday night/Sunday morning we did a spot of transcontinental editing that brought out the best in the article.

    Miriam

  • Aaron Jarden says:

    Many thanks Miriam. I likewise am continually surprised, but not just with PP interventions, but also that applying social and clinical psych knowledge to everyday life also helps across a wide range of things. I must also admit having been a philosopher before a psychologist that general thinking and rationalising skills also provide much fruit. For me and my surgery the precursor to gratitude was very much purpose and values – i.e., reflecting on what was most important in my life highlighted how grateful i was to a range of people and for what i have…
    Cheers, Aaron.

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