The Science of Gratitude

Numerous studies have been published over the last decade singing the praises of gratitude for improving everything from mental well being to physical health and personal relationships. Why exactly is gratitude so potent? Here’s what the research says:

Grateful People Sleep Better

Taking a few moments to note a few things you are grateful for before bed can improve sleep, according to a 2011 study. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise, as many people have been kept up at night by worry and anxiety. Shifting of your mental dialogue before bedtime may calm your nervous system enough to promote better rest.


Gratitude Helps People Connect

Showing appreciation can make interactions more meaningful and positive. A recent study demonstrates that saying thank you to a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship. This probably goes deeper than the value of politeness. Gratitude researcher David DeSteno writes “The latest evidence suggests that, rather than simply being about good manners, the emotion of gratitude might have deep roots in humans’ evolutionary history, sustaining the social bonds that are key not only to our happiness but also to our survival as a species.” Think about your own experience. Isn’t it nicer to be around people who appreciate you? Humans are deeply symbiotic and social creatures, who rely on mutual cooperation to make society function. Hard-wired in our evolutionary history is a realization that we need each other. Gratitude is an acknowledgment of our human need to connect and work together.

Gratitude has Lasting Effects on the Brain

A recent study at the University of California at Berkeley demonstrated that an active gratitude practice had a significant impact on both normal, well-adjusted individuals and those who have struggled with mental health concerns. Researchers randomly assigned study participants into three groups: one group was instructed to write a gratitude letter to another person each week, the second group was asked to write about their negative experiences, and the third group did no writing activity. They found that the participants who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health for months after the writing exercise ended. This seems to indicate that gratitude is a powerful practice with impacts that can resonate into the future, continuing to benefit us.


Gratitude can Boost Self-Esteem

Some studies have shown that gratitude can help reduce social comparison, a source of so much misery and self-doubt in our hyper-competitive culture. Instead of feelings of resentment and competition—major factors in reduced self-esteem—sgrateful people can appreciate the talents and accomplishments of others. In fact, a 2014 study found that gratitude increased athlete’s self-esteem, which is an essential component of peak performance.

Gratitude Bolsters Emotional Well-Being

More than one researcher has uncovered that practicing gratitude can positively impact feelings of well-being. Studies conducted by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher, confirm that gratitude both increases happiness and reduces depression. Researchers at Berkeley suggest that this may be because gratitude shifts one’s attention away from negative emotions, such as resentment and envy. When you write about the things, people and experiences you are grateful for, it becomes noticeably harder to focus on your unhappy experiences.

Gratitude Makes you Physically Healthier

People who actively practice being grateful report better health overall and report fewer aches and pains, according to a much-cited 2013 study. Grateful people are also reported to be more likely to take care of their physical health. They exercise more regularly and are more likely to see a doctor for regular check-ups, which is likely to contribute to better long-term health outcomes.

Have you seen the effects of practicing gratitude in your life? Let us know in the comments!

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