Science shows (and experience knows) that gratitude has its benefits. In the spirit of giving thanks for the multitude of blessings/lessons in life, here are 11 happy benefits of gratitude worth smiling about.
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a gift and not giving it.” – William Arthur Ward
Research shows that gratitude leads to higher levels of perceived social support, lower levels of stress and depression, and a whole host of life-supporting benefits. This post highlights a handful of good reasons to give the gift of gratitude today, something I hope you’re always willing to do (even if you feel like you’re not able to do it).
The following benefits of gratitude have been studied by professionals and experienced by many–I can personally attest to their accuracy, regardless of the research. Gratitude is one of the sweetest paths to happiness.
11 Happy Benefits of Gratitude
1. Gratitude increases happiness.
Gratitude feels good, which isn’t too surprising. Positive psychologists did some research and found that a single act of thoughtful gratitude resulted in an immediate 10 percent increase in happiness and a 35 percent decrease in depressive symptoms. Within three to six months, however, the happy effects dissipated.
According to gratitude researcher Robert Emmons, gratitude is happiness that we recognize, after the fact, to have been caused by the kindness of others. I believe it’s also caused by our awareness of our own capacity for kindness.
Gratitude doesn’t just make us happier; gratitude is actually an expression of happiness itself.
2. Gratitude encourages optimism.
Sporting an optimistic attitude makes us happier, improves our health, and may even lengthen lifespan by a few years. Gratitude is strongly correlated with optimism.
In this experiment, one group of people wrote down the things they were grateful for on a weekly basis, while another other group recorded hassles or neutral life events. Compared to their negative/neutral-focused counterparts, the folks who kept gratitude journals exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were generally more optimistic about the upcoming week.
3. Gratitude encourages happier memories.
We are more than our memories, and our memories are not set in stone. They can change over time based on how we choose to approach the present moment. What we remember about our past depends totally on the perception we hold today.
To quote one of my favorite Trevor Hall lyrics: “My past and my future depends on today.”
Experiencing gratitude in the present makes us more likely to remember positive aspects about our past, and we can even transform some of the negative or neutral aspects into positive recollections. When in a grateful state, it’s easier to find closure around traumatic, tragic, and upsetting memories.
4. Gratitude lowers stress, encourages relaxation.
Gratitude and positive emotions are among the strongest relaxants known to man. Gratitude may be just as effective as relaxation methods such as deep breathing, but it can also be more difficult to initiate as a relaxation technique.
In a 2009 Algoe and Haidt study, it was found that people experienced pleasant muscle relaxation when recalling situations in which they’d felt grateful. Becoming more appreciative can decrease stress hormones, increase relaxation hormones, and enhance overall well-being.
5. Gratitude improves sleep.
Gratitude improves sleep quality, reduces the time required to fall asleep, and increases sleep duration.
In one experiment, three groups of participants were asked to complete a daily journal listing either (a) five things they were grateful for, (b) five hassles of the day, or (c) five neutral events/circumstances that affected their day. Those jotting down their daily blessings reported “getting more hours of sleep each night, spending less time awake before falling asleep, and feeling more refreshed upon awakening.”
When we direct our thoughts toward the things we have to be thankful for today, it’s likely our efforts will bring peace of mind.
6. Gratitude makes you more resilient.
Resiliency in this context means the ability to cope well with difficult life events. After trauma, being grateful can make you happier and decrease negative emotions and stress tied to the life event. You are also more likely to seek out social support in times of need.
In essence, gratitude enables you to bounce back better when life pushes you back or knocks you down. It’s not always easy to choose a grateful perspective when life is hard, but doing so can launch us into a state of growth, rather than stress, following a difficult life event.
7. Gratitude deepens and strengthens relationships.
Gratitude means we’re appreciative of what others do unto us, and thus makes us want to do good unto others. This balance leads to increased feelings of closeness and a desire to build or strengthen relationships. This results in better friendships and better marriages.
One study found that after receiving gratitude, participants noticed that their partner was more responsive to their needs and overall more satisfied with their relationship.
This study showed that being grateful in the workplace — especially if you are in a supervisory position — leads to increased trust among colleagues and more initiative to lend a helping hand.
Make it a point to appreciate one another. Your current relationships will flourish, and new relationships will ensue.
8. Gratitude encourages giving.
The very nature of gratitude is to focus on others and their acts of benevolence. In this way, gratitude discourages self-centered thinking and spurs our own acts of helpfulness, generosity, and cooperation.
Get inspired by these seven ideas for random acts of kindness.
9. Gratitude counters materialism.
Research shows that materialistic people are less happy than their peers, which suggests that material things do not provide a sustainable or meaningful boost to our happiness. In fact, materialism is strongly correlated with reduced well-being, increased anxiety and substance abuse, reduced feelings of connection and gratitude, and more negative emotions.
The practice of gratitude can effectively beat materialism and thus increase happiness levels.
Being grateful in my daily life has been an important part of my happiness mission. Gratitude has helped me to become happier with myself and my life, and has caused me to focus less on things that don’t matter and more on the people, dreams, and experiences that matter most.
10. Gratitude boosts productivity.
Gratitude and vitality are strongly correlated. When you save your mental energy for your blessings instead of expending it on your worries, insecurities, and negative information, you have more energy, alertness, enthusiasm, vigor, and success in achieving your goals.
This finding does not suggest that happy or grateful people need more. It’s quite possible — and is actually the sign of a happy and grateful person — to be content with what you have while working toward what you want.
What benefits of gratitude have you experienced in your own life? How does gratitude help you smile, give you hope, encourage kindness, or support joyful experiences? Please share your thoughts, lessons, and any experiences with me in the comments.
Share this with someone who could use some inspiration today.
Express your gratitude, and you’ll find that there’s more to be grateful for.
Free watercolor flower wreath by Angie Makes; lettering by Aim Happy.