What if Gratitude Could be Found in an Actual Place?

Are you living in a place of gratitude? “A place of gratitude”—ever heard a phrase like this?  Yes, I understand it’s meant to be figurative, much in the same way I understand people aren’t typically talking about real spaces when advising that we “find your happy place.” But…

What if gratitude could be found in a physical space? If it could, how might those spaces appear? And could we design a space specifically to foster gratitude?

Gratitude and Its Benefits

Particularly in the United States around this time of year, many of us are prompted to reflect on all for which we’re thankful.[1] We offer expressions of gratitude as appreciate for the people, experiences, and fortunes we’ve experienced. In return, we have much to gain.

As it turns out, researchers are identifying many very real benefits associated with expressing gratitude. Gratitude is linked with increasing happiness, improving our relationships, and even making us healthier! Leading researchers of gratitude like psychologist Robert Emmons have been studying these benefits, and here are just a few examples:

  • Greater physical health (Stronger immune systems; Less bothered by aches and pains; Lower blood pressure; Exercise more and take better care of their health; Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking) [Research by Robert Emmons]
  • Greater physical health (Higher levels of positive emotions; More alert, alive, and awake; More joy and pleasure; More optimism and happiness) [Research by Robert Emmons]
  • Increased Social Wellness (More helpful, generous, and compassionate; More forgiving; More outgoing; Feel less lonely and isolated.) [Research by Robert Emmons]
  • Demonstrates resilience of the human spirit in the face of tragedy [Dr. Lissa Rankin]

What contributes to gratitude?

We can certainly cultivate gratitude for ourselves, says Emmons, but the greatest form of gratitude celebrates something outside us.

Gratitude begins with an awareness and acknowledgement that there is goodness in the world. (Admittedly, this takes a little more effort these days.) Then, gratitude comes from recognizing that this goodness originates beyond ourselves: from other people, experiences, greater forces, gifts…even places.

Places for Which We are Grateful

When I first start to think about gratitude in the context of places, my mind goes to a few spots where my memories shine. Vivid imagery of the streetscapes and marvelous landscapes I’ve visited in my travels pop into my head. These are places that have given me unforgettable experiences. Of course, I also think about the nearby spots that I visit more frequently, places like my favorite parks, a neighborhood cafe, my home.

Places which Make Us Feel Grateful

Then there’s this second category when considering places of gratitude: places that, when visited, evoke a sense of gratitude. These are places of wonder…awe-inspiring landscapes. Again, I can think of a few breathtaking places I’ve been fortunate to visit. I have been absolutely beside myself with gratitude. I can think of a few spots closer to home, too—those beautiful monuments, lovely vistas, and hidden gems that demand pause from the hustle of the day.

Finding More Gratitude

There are a few good practices we can follow to cultivate more gratitude in our lives, and they don’t require trips to see the wonders of the world, either (again, some of my most lovely moments of gratitude have been experienced just around the corner from my front door). Rather, we can find more gratitude with a few science-backed strategies, like taking an awe-walk, weekly entries in a gratitude journal, and making a habit of gratitude visits.

I haven’t fully explored or given enough thought to how we fold this into our design of places, but if we can harness the power of gratitude, we could significantly improve our physiological and psychological well-being.

So if we’re pausing to reflect on some of our gratitudes today, let’s be sure to include some of those great places that remind just how much goodness exists out there in the world.

[1] Recognizing that the Thanksgiving holiday in the US is severely problematic, my thoughts in this piece are narrowly considering the “giving thanks” aspect of the tradition.

Further Reading:

  • Emmons, Robert. (2010). Why Gratitude Is Good. Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good
  • Hagan, Ekua. (2015). 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201504/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-gratitude
  • Harvard Health Publishing. (2021). Giving thanks can make you happier. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier
  • Lafia, Colette. (nd). How Our Special Places Connect Us to Gratitude. Retrieved from https://gratefulness.org/blog/how-our-special-places-connect-us-to-gratitude/
  • McGowan, Kayla. (2020). Surprise! Gratitude in Unexpected Places. Retrieved from https://www.whil.com/insights/article/surprise-gratitude-in-unexpected-places
  • Ramunda, Monica. (2021). Find Gratitude In Unlikely Places Every Single Day. Retrieved from https://www.yourtango.com/experts/monica-ramunda/finding-gratitude-unlikely-places-every-day
  • Singh, Maanvi.(2018). If You Feel Thankful, Write It Down. It’s Good For Your Health. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/12/24/678232331/if-you-feel-thankful-write-it-down-its-good-for-your-health
  • Warnick, Melody. (2016). This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live. Viking.

Future Reading (i.e., content I’ve not yet dug into but would love to)

  • Kageyama, Peter. (2015). Love Where You Live: Creating Emotionally Engaging Places.

1 thought on “What if Gratitude Could be Found in an Actual Place?”

  1. Thanks so much for the webinar on the APA Learn site! I finally had a chance to watch it and visit your site. I’m a planner who’s also very interested in this topic; I appreciate you bringing together all of this great research.

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