Gratitude: A Cornerstone of Happiness

Doctor holding a thankful patient's handGratitude is a natural response that comes at the heels of a kind gesture, a favor, the fulfillment of a promise, and a job well done. Gratefulness and the act of demonstrating it is a skill, however, and like most skills, it has to be practiced and perfected. Furthermore, saying, “thank you,” is more than an act of politeness.

Gratitude is a thankful appreciation people feel when they receive something from someone who’s sincere. It is a healthy emotion that people need. It cultivates positive feelings and responses that affect a person’s physical and mental well-being. Simply put, expressing gratitude enables people to be happier and healthier.

Studies on Gratitude and Happiness

There’s a wealth of research that links gratitude to happiness. In an early study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers from UC Davis and the University of Miami found that:

1. Writing a list of things to be thankful for results in a positive and optimistic view of life.

2. Practicing acts of gratitude encourage people to help others.

3. Grateful people are more optimistic, connected to others, and experience longer, higher-quality sleep.

A more recent study published in the journal Social and Personality Psychology Compass adds that the emotion helps people form and maintain relationships. All of these are stepping stones towards satisfaction, contentment, and happiness.

Gratefulness Impacts the Mind and Body

Old lady showing her gratitude to her nurseThe happiness that people experience when showing gratitude has a positive effect on their psychological health. Numerous studies have demonstrated the inverse correlation between gratitude and symptoms of depression. Thankfulness encourages people to look at the positive rather than the negative, and the feeling of happiness increases the more intense and frequent a person feels gratitude.

The positivity that comes with gratefulness doesn’t only affect psychological well-being but also physical health. Early studies have found that grateful people show fewer symptoms of physical illness. They have more stable blood pressure, better immune functions, and get better sleep. They’re also more likely to watch their health and avoid cigarettes and alcohol.

Conversely, adolescents and adults who feel less gratitude are more likely to give their physical health less favorable ratings.

Empathy: Keeping Negativity Away

People often feel gratitude when they encounter forms of kindness, and these experiences promote empathy. Empathetic people project themselves onto specific individuals and gain a better understanding of what they’re feeling. They also tend to be more prosocial and stay calm even when others do something offensive. They are more likely to react with sympathy instead of responding to transgressions with aggression.

With thankfulness and empathy as dominant emotions, people can become less prone to violence. The study behind this assertion was published nine years ago, however, and may need additional research to prove it is applicable today.

Still, human nature is hard to suppress; and it is our nature to respond to kindness with gratitude, be it in words or action. It is also human nature to pursue happiness, which is why people relish acts that make them feel positive emotions. Gratefulness, as numerous research studies have implied, is a key component in achieving happiness.