What is the Science behind Gratitude?

Blog Mind What is the Science behind Gratitude?

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11.23.2022 0 comments

Thanksgiving is the time of year when we’re all reminded to be grateful and practice gratitude…but this is something we should be practicing all year long!

Gratitude can do some pretty amazing things for your health, offering you an impressively wide range of health-improving, longevity-boosting benefits.

As you’ll see by the research we’ll share below, there are a lot of ways that incorporating more gratitude into your life every day will improve your health and wellbeing.

The Science of Gratitude: How Gratitude Contributes to Better Health

Based on an abundance of research, it has become very clear that gratitude deserves a place in your daily life, because of all the health benefits it can convey. Some of these benefits include:

Better health overall. One study [1] involved participants writing down things for which they were thankful every day, and it was discovered that this activity led to fewer instances of physical affliction. In another study [2], researchers discovered that participants who practiced gratitude regularly not only had greater health (self-reported), but they were more likely to engage in healthy activities, be more psychologically healthy, and even were more willing to seek help for medical issues or health concerns. Gratitude helped to keep them healthy!

Better mental health. Gratitude has been linked to better mental health overall, including lower rates of depression [3], anxiety, and even suicidal tendencies. People who practice gratitude regularly tend to be happier overall, and experience an increased sense of wellbeing that can actually help them to “feel” healthier.

Better sleep quality. In the same study that discovered lower depression rates linked to gratitude, researchers found that gratitude also helped to improve sleep quality. The 186 heart failure patients involved in the study reported better sleep, less fatigue, and improved overall quality of sleep. In another study [4], gratitude actually turned out to improve not only the quality of sleep, but also its duration. As research has proven in the past, good sleep quality is directly linked to better health and wellness overall, making this particular benefit far more wide-reaching than you might expect.

Better relationships. Relationships play a huge role in our mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing. Countless studies in the past have linked strong social connections to reduce depression and anxiety rates, higher sense of wellness, and even improved health. According to one study from 2021 [4], the regular practice of gratitude was discovered to have a positive correlation with family function and peer relationships. This could be largely because grateful people have an easier time seeing the good in others, and thus are more likely to have a more compassionate (or less critical) view of the people around them, making relationships easier to develop.

Better sense of purpose and identity. This is a fascinating one: in the 2021 study mentioned above, it was discovered that “grateful individuals can better sense the meaning of life”. People who are grateful tend to not only understand meaning better, but are more prone to actively seek out a purpose or meaning in life. They develop their identity more strongly, which in turn develops confidence that translates into better mental health and a greater sense of happiness in their lives.

Better resilience. The study that examined heart failure patients for the positive effects of gratitude discovered that grateful people tend to have more self-efficacy, which is defined as “an individual's belief in their capacity to act in the ways necessary to reach specific goals.” [5] Self-efficacy has been linked to greater resilience—in fact, it’s one of the critical components of resilience. Knowing that you are capable of acting in a meaningful way to reach your goals goes a long way toward helping you to recover from even life’s hardest blows and keeps you moving forward.

Better satisfaction in life. This is a huge one! A study from 2011 [6] found that just four weeks of regular gratitude practice led to higher life satisfaction overall. People who practice gratitude tend to be more content and satisfied with their lives—including the choices and challenges that got them to where they are, as well as the trajectory their lives are taking.

Better interactions with others. In a 2019 study [7], research revealed that people who regularly practice gratitude tend to be less aggressive in their reactions, and are less prone to feeling hurt reactions. This could involve both situations where people are intentionally being malicious or hurtful and accidentally offending you. Practitioners of gratitude tend to have higher empathy, which also translates into greater patience for the people with whom they interact regularly.

Lower inflammation. In the study involving heart failure patients practicing gratitude, it was discovered that regular practice also contributed to lower inflammation rates. Inflammation plays a role in a wide range of conditions—from diabetes to cardiovascular conditions to autoimmune disease to cancer—so curbing it with regular gratitude can do wonders to increase your lifespan.

And the truth is that there are many, many more benefits you can obtain from gratitude! It’s worth incorporating a bit more gratefulness and positivity in your daily life if you want to see your health and wellbeing improve overall.

How to Practice Gratitude Starting Today

Don’t worry: this isn’t going to involve some grand, broad-sweeping life changes. In fact, daily gratitude practices can be small behaviors and habits you build, that over time will make you a more grateful and positive person.

To practice gratitude:

  • Keep a gratitude journal and take time every day to write down things you are thankful for. Don’t let a day go by without at least one entry into the journal, but feel free to write down as many things as come to your mind.

  • Actively express your appreciation and gratitude to the people in your life, be it coworkers, friends, family members, or even total strangers. The simple act of voicing your gratitude aloud will help you to build the habit of being more grateful in every area of your life.

  • Write thank-you notes, be it for big or small thing. Someone treated you nicely at the bank? Write them a thank-you card. Got excellent service at your last meal out? Write a note to thank them. Received a surprise gift from someone? Take the time to write out a note of appreciation. It’s a small act that can hugely improve someone’s day.

  • Speak with gratitude. Be more positive in the way you talk and use words that demonstrate a positive outlook on life—words like “happy”, “blessed”, “appreciate”, “enjoy”, and “thanks”. The more you speak those words, the more they will be imprinted on your mind and become a tangible part of your life.

  • Pay attention to the small things around you, all day, every day. Being more mindful of the beautiful, enjoyable, and good in your immediate area will help to develop an attitude of gratitude. Throughout the day, take a moment to stop and look around you. Look at the view outside your window, the comfortable furniture where you’re working or relaxing, the quality food you’re eating, even the people you’re sharing the space with. The more you make an effort to notice these things, the more you’ll start to notice them and other positive things instinctively until you can’t help but see the “good” everywhere.

It will take a bit of effort to train your brain to develop these grateful attitudes and incorporate the habits into your daily life, but as you saw above, the benefits to your health and quality of life can be monumental!


[1] https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/pdfs/GratitudePDFs/7McCullough-GratefulDisposition.pdf

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3489271/

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4507265/

[4] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/335018983_Gratitude_and_health_An_updated_review

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8581566/

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-efficacy

[6] https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Kyle-Matsuba/publication/233784842_Gratitude_and_Well-Being_Who_Benefits_the_Mostfrom_a_Gratitude_Intervention/links/59e96ee7aca272bc42978541/Gratitude-and-Well-Being-Who-Benefits-the-Most-from-a-Gratitude-Intervention.pdf

[7] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/335018983_Gratitude_and_health_An_updated_review


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