In the research in the field of positive psychology, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, enjoy good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity and build stronger relationships. People feel and express gratitude in multiple ways.[i]
The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness or gratefulness, depending on the context. Gratitude is thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. People acknowledge the goodness in their lives by expressing gratitude. Being grateful allows people to connect to something larger than themselves as individuals, such as other people, nature or a higher power. Gratitude can be applied to the past through retrieval of memories of positive experiences; to the present by not taking good fortune for granted but recognizing its blessing; and to the future by cultivating a hopeful and optimistic attitude.
The Effect of Positive Psychology
Research on the effect of gratitude is striking. Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons and Dr. Michael E. McCullough, conducted a study in which they asked participants to write a few sentences every week. One group wrote about things that occurred that they were grateful for, another group wrote about irritating or unpleasant things that happened, and a third wrote about neutral events. After several months, the participants who wrote about their gratitude were more optimistic and satisfied with their lives. In addition, they were more likely to have made positive steps for their health such as exercise.[ii]
Another study by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman compared the effect of various positive psychology tasks to that of a control assignment. Of all the various tasks, writing and delivering a letter of gratitude to thank someone for their kindness created a significant boost in happiness greater than any other of the assignments.[iii] Other studies have shown that expressing gratitude to a partner in a relationship, or by a manager to an employee, increased mutually positive feelings and motivation to improve.
Even better, grateful people experience better health generally. “Grateful people tend to be happier and show lower levels of stress hormones like cortisol. Health care workers who keep a gratitude journal show reductions in stress and depression. And people suffering from chronic pain who practice gratitude show improvements in both sleep quality and mood.”[iv]
How to Increase Your Gratitude
So, how can you increase your gratitude? Designate a notebook or buy a beautiful bound blank book and write down three to five things for which you’re grateful every day. If you have more than three things, just keep writing about all of them, however small. Although it sounds deceptively simple, research shows that this practice can boost your overall happiness in as little as two weeks. Another way to increase your well-being is to write a thank-you letter to a loved one, friend or co-worker, or anyone who has impacted your life in a meaningful way. Letters of gratitude strengthen your bonds to the people in your life who matter most to your happiness, and they can boost their well-being as well.
Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. If you cannot carve out the time to physically write the letter, consider thanking someone in person or by a phone call, text, or email. Express gratitude to service people that show kindness or attentiveness. Really stretched? Simply mentally note your gratitude and thank the individual silently. Other ways to cultivate gratitude include prayer, meditation and spending time in nature.
These simple ways to practice gratitude in your life can reset your emotional temperature, improve your physical and mental health, and help you achieve a happier life.