Thursday, October 23, 2014

Putting Gratitude in Your Attitude

A while back my daughter was involved in a single-car accident.  She acknowledged that it was the result of careless driving.  The repair estimate was a few thousand dollars.  My immediate reaction on hearing the news was relief that she was not injured.  Yes, we spoke about driving carefully and learning from the incident, but I was not stressed or angry.  I was relieved:  grateful, because I knew the outcome could have been much worse.

It turns out that gratitude is an underappreciated component of emotional well-being.  Robert Emmons, Ph.D. and his colleagues have done interesting work in this area.  The research tells us that gratitude contributes significantly to positive relationships, physical health, and general happiness.  These, in turn, are known contributors to performance:  productivity and creativity.

It also turns out that gratitude, like any attitude, is one that can be cultivated through mindful practice.  Indeed, many spiritual disciplines and religious practices promote gratitude.  Journaling can be an effective means for generating gratitude as a pattern of thinking and feeling.

In one study of gratitude, half of the subjects were asked to write a few sentences per week on things that they were grateful for.  The other half was asked to write about their daily irritations.  By the end of the ten week study, the group expressing gratitude expressed more optimism and happiness than the group venting irritation.  Intriguingly, those who wrote about gratitude were also less likely to need visits to physicians.  The benefits of gratitude are so dramatic that there is a grant-funded project to promote gratitude as a public health initiative. 

The idea is that every day can be Thanksgiving.  When we are steeped in frustration about market moves that we missed, trades we got wrong, or drawdowns we incurred, we place ourselves in an emotional and physical frame that is not conducive to future performance.  A worthwhile trading practice is to extract at least one piece of personal and professional progress from each day that you are grateful for.  We will always experience drawdowns--in trading and in life.  Gratitude helps us focus on the riches we can never lose.

Further Reading:  Gorillas in the Middle of the Market