3 Surprising Benefits of Gratitude and a Recipe for Accessing them Year-Round


There is something remarkable about this time of year. Beyond the food, football, or even time with family, as we gather together and vocally express thanks for the blessings in our lives, it seems to bring a great sense of happiness, peace, and contentment. As I sat down to write this post and figure out what makes being grateful…well, so great…I was pleased (and even a little surprised) to find that this is much more than some abstract or ethereal concept; it has been backed by science! A number of recent studies in what has been termed “positive psychology” have linked gratitude to incredible physical, emotional, social, and psychological benefits. The key to gaining these benefits, though, is to make gratitude a regular practice. While it’s great to spend a day focusing on our blessings, if we make a habit of regularly recognizing our blessings and demonstrating sincere gratitude for them, we can seriously improve our quality of life.

Following is a list of what I found to be some of the most intriguing benefits of gratitude and a few ingredients for incorporating gratitude into our everyday “diet” to realize them, even after the leftover turkey and pie are long gone.

Benefit 1: Gratitude makes you happy

Happiness is one of the most basic human desires; and in our search for happiness, religious leaders have long extolled the value of being grateful. Well, now science is beginning to catch up. Recent research examining happiness as an outcome is consistently finding that being grateful and expressing gratitude increases happiness. In one study, subjects who wrote and delivered a letter of gratitude to someone who they had never properly thanked were shown to have higher levels of happiness and lower depressive symptoms for an entire month following the activity.[i] In a similar study, individuals assigned to write an essay, write a letter of gratitude, or even think about someone to whom they were grateful demonstrated better moods, greater happiness, and superior subjective well being.[ii] Finally, a study comparing subjects assigned the weekly task of recording blessings to those recording burdens found that individuals in the “grateful condition” displayed higher levels of optimism and well being.[iii] So what does this mean for you? If you want more happiness in life, give gratitude a try. My personal recommendation:


Ingredient 1: Keep a daily or weekly gratitude journal to regularly record your blessings.


Benefit 2: Gratitude helps you sleep

Research suggests that being grateful is associated with a number of health benefits, including a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure, and even longevity. But for me, an insomniac, probably the most attractive health benefit is its effect on sleep. For example, in one study, researchers found that gratitude was associated with “greater subjective sleep quality and sleep duration, and less sleep latency and daytime dysfunction[iv]. How does this work? According to the study, “pre-sleep cognitions” (i.e., the things we think about as we drift off to sleep) significantly affect our sleep. While thinking about our “to do’s” or other stresses in life increases the level of stress in the body, thinking about our blessings triggers the relaxation response, which helps us fall asleep faster and stay that way. The recommendation:

Ingredient #2: Bing Crosby probably put it best: "If you're worried and you can't sleep, just count your blessings instead of sheep”.


Benefit 3: Gratitude strengthens marriages

We live in an age when divorce is rampant. After the honeymoon ends, it is not uncommon for individuals to slowly slip into the trap of taking their spouse for granted and beginning to treat him or her like little more than a housemate. While there are likely many reasons for this, decades of research on marriage has shown that one of the major reasons for dysfunction in marital relationships is an unhealthy balance of negative to positive expressions in daily communication.[v] In science, this has become known as the “Gottman ratio”, named after Dr. John Gottman, a professor of psychology who, in a series of studies observing couple’s communication for a matter of minutes, was able to predict divorce rates with up to 94% accuracy. More specifically, he found strong links between expressions of disapproval, sarcasm, and cynicism with divorce, on the one hand, and expressions of love, gratitude, and encouragement with longevity, on the other.[vi] Based on these findings, the recommendation seems clear:

Ingredient #3: Make a conscious effort to regularly recognize and express gratitude to your spouse for all he or she does for you.


Altogether, gratitude is a key to a happier, healthier, and more fulfilling life. And since it may be less natural to focus on gratitude once Thanksgiving is past, I hope we will all seriously consider mixing up these ingredients (and maybe even supplement with others) to cook up a better life, now and in the future!



[i] Seligman, Martin EP, et al. "Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions." American psychologist 60.5 (2005): 410.
[ii] Watkins, Philip C., et al. "Gratitude and happiness: Development of a measure of gratitude, and relationships with subjective well-being." Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal 31.5 (2003): 431-451.
[iii] Emmons, Robert A., and Michael E. McCullough. "Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life." Journal of personality and social psychology 84.2 (2003): 377.
[iv] Wood, Alex M., et al. "Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions." Journal of psychosomatic research 66.1 (2009): 43-48.
[v] Gottman, John Mordechai. What predicts divorce?: The relationship between marital processes and marital outcomes. Psychology Press, 2014.
[vi] The Gottman Institute. Research FAQs. http://www.gottman.com/research/research-faqs/ 
   

Additional Articles & Resources:
1 - Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/expandinggratitude
2 - Boost Your Health With a Dose of Gratitude: http://www.webmd.com/women/features/gratitute-health-boost
3 - 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Gratitude That Will Motivate You To Give Thanks Year-Round: http://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2014/11/23/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-of-gratitude-that-will-motivate-you-to-give-thanks-year-round/
4 - 20 Mind-Blowing Facts About Gratitude: https://www.yahoo.com/health/20-mind-blowing-facts-about-gratitude-103220471667.html
5 - The 31 Benefits of Gratitude You Didn’t Know About: How Gratitude Can Change Your Life: http://happierhuman.com/benefits-of-gratitude/
6 - Grateful in Any Circumstances: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2014/04/grateful-in-any-circumstances?lang=eng  



Joseph Harrison is a proud new father and the husband of an incredible and accomplished wife. He has a bachelor's degree in business administration and worked for several years in management consulting before coming to Texas A&M, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in strategic management. He also has experience working with youth as a tutor and personal mentor. His passions include his family, serving others, teaching, and college football.

2 comments

  1. I've seen a number of books on the topic of happiness come out lately. People are fascinated with happiness, specifically who is happy and why.

    One of my favorite talks of all time was President Uchdorf's "Grateful in Any Circumstances" from the April 2014 Conference. Instead of being thankful FOR specific things, he explains that it's better to cultivate an overall attitude of being grateful that won't let you down when life isn't going all that well. I've always struggled with trials and how to let God help me through them, and I think that's the secret.

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    1. Great point, Jenny! And a fantastic talk! Thanks for pointing that out. For anyone interested in reading that talk, I've added a link in the "additional resources" section above.


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