“Gratitude is a powerful catalyst for happiness. It’s the spark that lights a fire of joy in your soul,” says Amy Collette. We express our gratitude by saying “thank you” when somebody gives us a gift, holds a door open for us, or during every-day family meals. This might be why many of us have taken gratitude for granted — just something we do without thinking much about it. Yet, the perception of gratitude has been shifting. According to recent research, people who are grateful report a host of positive benefits, including greater happiness. Interested? Find out more about the benefits of gratitude below.
Ancient and contemporary intellectuals have discussed the important role gratitude plays in our everyday lives. Seneca believed that gratitude was one of the tenets of a prosperous civilization. He also believed it was one of the components of happiness, saying “I am grateful, not in order that my neighbor, provoked by the earlier act of kindness, maybe more ready to benefit me, but simply in order that I may perform a most pleasant and beautiful act; I feel grateful, not because it profits me, but because it pleases me.” Similarly, Adam Smith said, “the duties of gratitude are perhaps the most sacred of all those which the beneficent virtues prescribe to us”.
Yet, the state of being grateful is not solely a philosophical area of interest. In recent years psychology has also studied gratitude. Researcher Robert Emmonts, one of the world’s leading scientific experts on gratitude, suggests that being more grateful can lead to improved levels of well-being. This is further supported by cohort studies, which connect an “attitude of gratitude” to more joy, stronger relationships, and even stronger immune systems.
What Do We Mean by “Being Grateful”?
The word “gratitude” derives from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. In some ways, gratitude involves all of these meanings. It is not merely the action of saying “thanks” when somebody does something for us. It is an appreciation for what you receive, be it tangible or intangible.
Psychiatry researchers describe it as the “appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself and represents a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation.” Positive psychologist Emmons and his colleagues have called it “an emotion, a virtue, a moral sentiment, a motive, a coping response, a skill, and an attitude. It is all of these and more.
With gratitude, you acknowledge everything that is good in your life. And, you recognize that some part of that goodness comes from the outside world. So, gratitude also helps us connect to something greater than ourselves as individuals: with nature, communities, or a higher power. Gratitude is a selfless act. The benefits are not only for the receiver but also for the giver. You can acknowledge a person’s value by making a gift, without expecting anything in return. Expressing gratitude in this way brings you happiness. And the wonderful thing is that, the more you are grateful, the less there is time to focus on negative thoughts or emotions.
The Bond Between Gratitude and Happiness
According to positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly linked to greater happiness. Over the past decade, a great body of evidence has supported this idea, demonstrating that gratitude practices can yield positive results that translate to more balanced mental and emotional wellness, both key factors of a joyful life.
Dr. Steven Toepfer and colleagues, for example, conducted a study asking participants to write and deliver a letter to someone for whom they were grateful. The participants wrote a letter every two weeks for a period of one month and a half. The letters were positive messages, containing high levels of appreciation or gratitude. After each letter, they completed surveys to measure their moods, satisfaction with life and happiness.
“I saw their happiness increase after each letter, meaning the more they wrote, the better they felt,” said Toepfer. Their levels of life satisfaction improved as well. What this study shows is that, in our constant pursuit of happiness, gratitude offers long-lasting effects in a positive-feedback loop. Further research shows that gratitude boosts happiness by helping people relish good experiences, deal with adversity, build stronger relationships, and even improve their health.
The Benefits of Gratitude
By now, you know the basis: gratitude equals more happiness. But, it’s time to get all the details. Here are five positive benefits (proven by science) you can experience by being grateful, which can boost your happiness levels.
Saying thanks to a friend or family member might make them happier, and it can strengthen the emotional bond between the two of you. People who express gratitude for each other tend to be more forgiving and less narcissistic. Of course, the positive benefits of gratitude aren’t limited to the people who are close to you. Thanking your delivery man or waiter who brings the food to your table helps to strengthen social bonds. Gratitude can be also the key to getting to know new, wonderful people. In fact, a 2014 study published in Emotion says that showing sincere appreciation can help you win new friends. The study found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek a long term relationship with you.
Better mental health
Studies demonstrate that gratitude reduces several toxic emotions, ranging from frustration to envy and resentment. What’s more, it also helps to reduce the stress hormone, cortisol. In a study by McCarty and colleagues, 45 adults cultivated appreciation amongst other positive emotions. The study discovered that there was a 23% reduction in cortisol. And, 80% of the participants showed an increased balance in heart rate patterns, which is an indicator of reduced stress. These findings suggest that grateful people experience lower levels of stress and other negative emotions that usually jeopardize our mental health.
A 2014 study found that young athletes who are grateful tend to be more satisfied and show higher levels of self-esteem, two important components of optimal performance. Other studies demonstrate that gratitude reduces social comparisons. In this age of social media, when some of us spend a great deal of time looking at the luxurious lives of influencers, negative comparisons are frequent. Yet, grateful people are able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments instead of feeling resentful, which is a sign of low self-esteem.
Being optimistic and focusing on the good side of situations can help you cope with difficult moments. Researchers have proven that there’s a link between gratitude and enhanced optimism. For example, a study had participants practicing gratitude for over then weeks. At the end of that period, people with an “attitude of gratitude” showed more optimism in many areas of their lives such as health and exercise.
More often than not, we struggle with our self-control. We give in easily to our urges of procrastinating, impulse buying, snacking, or smoking when we are trying to quit nicotine for good. The good news is that gratitude might be able to develop stronger self-control. Researchers investigated this possibility in a recent issue of Psychological Science. The study found that participants who choose gratitude over happiness or feeling neutral had better self-control and avoided behaviors such as cheating. Although it is not clear how gratitude boosts people’s self-control, other studies suggest that gratitude increases people’s sense of obligation or duty. For instance, feeling grateful will likely make you pay the debts you owe to others. This sense of obligation may also lead people to act fairly because fairness benefits all members of a community.
How can you apply Gratitude into your life?
The opportunity to be grateful will present itself to you. But if you don’t quite know where to start, follow these 3 tips you can apply to your daily routine.
Keep a gratitude journal
Gratitude journals have become widely popular in recent years. In fact, you will find plenty of available journals for this specific purpose. All you need to do is dedicate a few minutes of your date to write about gratitude. Think about three things that you are thankful for every morning. Or write about someone you love and appreciate.
Thank someone mentally
If you aren’t too keen on writing, then this option is for you. Think about a person who has done something positive for you. Then, send them your thanks mentally. Once you have time, you can do this in person or give them a small note showing your appreciation.
In general, meditation is a practice that helps us develop inner resilience and focus on positive feelings. Mindfulness meditation, for example, involves becoming aware of the present moment without judgment. When you practice this type of meditation, you are able to focus on what you are grateful for.
Listen to Synctuition’s Gratitude sound journey to feel grateful for all the things in your life and the valuable lessons you’ve learned through hardships.