Conversely, if you dwell on the negative – say the friend's forgetting of your birthday – the opposite happens: Stress can be triggered, and it becomes easier to process things negatively in the future. Thus, suggests Newberg, "even though it might feel forced, if you focus on gratitude over time, it does change the way your brain works."
Robert Emmons, a University of California, Davis, professor of psychology whose research and writing on the topic have made him something of a gratitude guru, says that people motivated to change their levels of happiness, or to lift a mild depression, can do so through a gratitude "intervention." This might entail keeping a gratitude journal, for instance, or spending 15 minutes a week remembering past kindnesses and, in response, writing a letter of thanks to a person who did the kindness. "The ones who gain the greatest benefits [are those who] try hard to carry it out over time," Professor Emmons wrote in an e-mail interview with the Monitor.
Gratitude and religion go hand in hand, as evidenced by the many ways believers express their thanks, says Leonard Swidler, editor of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies and religion professor at Temple University in Philadelphia. He calls thankfulness "a spontaneous response of anyone with any sense at all that our existence as human beings is not pure accident. Thanksgiving is just a very central way of relating between believers and their ultimate reality – God."