Gratitude is the new miracle emotion.
Although gratitude has been around for as long as human beings, it’s only recently started to get the big thumbs-up from science.
So here are 10 ways gratitude can change your life, followed by a quick 4-step plan to help maximise your own gratitude, whatever level you start from.
There’s even a trick for those suffering from ‘gratitude burnout’.
Gratitude is different things to different people: amongst them could be counting your blessings, savouring what life has given you, thanking someone or wondering at the natural world.
Whatever form it takes, one of the best known and most researched effects of practicing gratitude is it makes you happier.
Participants in one study were 25% happier, on average, after practicing a little gratitude over a 10-week period.
2. More satisfied
Gratitude isn’t just about feeling better, it’s also about thinking better.
In other words: it’s not just a fleeting sensation, it can also be a thought that sustains you.
That’s why people who feel more gratitude also feel more satisfied with their lives.
Gratitude better enables people to notice the things they do have, rather than mourning what’s missing.
3. Motivate others
When we say ‘thank you’ to others, it’s an expression of gratitude, but it can also act as a powerful motivator for them to help us again.
It could be as simple as sending a thank you email when someone has helped you out.
A gratitude study found that a thank you email doubled the number of people willing to help in the future:
“…the effect of ‘thank you’ was quite substantial: while only 32% of participants receiving the neutral email helped with the second letter, when Eric expressed his gratitude, this went up to 66%.”
They also found that:
“…people weren’t providing more help because they felt better or it boosted their self-esteem, but because they appreciated being needed and felt more socially valued when they’d been thanked.”
4. Reduce materialism
We all need some stuff in our lives, but sometimes the desire for more things can get out of control.
And our nascent desire for stuff is heavily encouraged by society in so many ways.
Gratitude can combat materialism by helping us appreciate what we already have.
As the Greek philosopher Epicurus said:
“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”
By law, all credit cards should have this quote across the front in fluorescent pink.
5. Increase self-control
It’s not true that the emotions tend to get in the way of decision-making; that we should be ‘cold’ and ‘calculating’ to make the right choices.
Quite the reverse: the feeling of gratitude can actually help people make the right decisions.
Professor Ye Li, whose research has established a link between gratitude and self-control explains:
“Showing that emotion can foster self-control and discovering a way to reduce impatience with a simple gratitude exercise opens up tremendous possibilities for reducing a wide range of societal ills from impulse buying and insufficient saving to obesity and smoking.”
It probably works because gratitude makes us feel less selfish, which gives us more patience.
6. Enrich our children
Encouraging gratitude in children can have remarkable effects.
One study found that kids who are more grateful feel life has more meaning, get more satisfaction from life, are happier and experience less negative emotions.
Dr. Giacomo Bono, who led the study, said his findings suggested:
“…that gratitude may be strongly linked with life-skills such as cooperation, purpose, creativity and persistence and, as such, gratitude is vital resource that parents, teachers and others who work with young people should help youth build up as they grow up.
More gratitude may be precisely what our society needs to raise a generation that is ready to make a difference in the world.”
7. Improve your relationship
Being grateful to your partner for all the little kindnesses they do can make all the difference to a relationship.
Research by Dr. Sara Algoe and colleagues, found that gratitude helps to maintain intimate relationships.
“Feelings of gratitude and generosity are helpful in solidifying our relationships with people we care about, and benefit to the one giving as well as the one on the receiving end.”
8. Build social ties
Just as very close intimate relationships benefit from gratitude; so do our wider ties to family and friends.
Gratitude has been linked to many positive social outcomes:
- People who are more grateful report better relationships with their peers.
- Gratitude enhances people’s ability to form and nurture relationships, as well as boosting how satisfied they are with them.
It really seems that gratitude has the power to deepen our connections with others.
9. Better health
Although there’s relatively little research on this, gratitude has been linked to better physical health, especially better sleep, and lower levels of stress.
Given that both stress levels and sleep are related to general physical health, this is not a surprise.
Given that the world can be a nasty place, filled with nasty surprises, it’s vital to have good coping skills.
People with gratitude tend to have just that.
When faced with challenges in life, they tend to eschew denial, self-blame and substance abuse in favour of active coping, seeking support from others, positive reinterpretation and growth.
How to be grateful
Hopefully you’re convinced by now that gratitude is an emotion that’s worth cultivating.
And it is something that can be cultivated.
Studies have repeatedly shown that we can train things sometimes thought of as hard-wired or pre-set, like our gratitude, optimism and enthusiasm.
So here are a few things you can try…
1. 2-minute exercise
Think of three things that you are grateful for: that benefit you and without which your life would be poorer.
Then, if you’ve got time, you can think about the causes for these good things.
And that’s it.
Read more on this simple gratitude exercise.
2. Simple steps
They include keeping a gratitude journal, using your senses to notice what’s around you and even remembering bad times to help provide a realistic frame for current events.
3. Repeat and explore
Repeat any, all or none of these exercises at regular intervals.
If it’s none, because they don’t work for you, then invent your own, or reconnect with an existing way of practicing gratefulness which is personal to you.
The more you can keep at it, the more likely it is to become a habit.
4. Avoid gratitude burnout
Like everything in life, we can get fed up with gratitude after a while if it gets to samey.
Avoid gratitude burnout by remembering that all things must come to an end — enjoy them while you still can.
In one study:
“…being encouraged to think grateful thoughts was not enough to increase happiness.
What made the grateful thoughts beneficial was focusing on the imminent end of this pleasurable experience.
Thinking about endpoints as a way of stimulating gratitude can be beneficial.
Finite ends seem to inspire people to think carefully about what it is they have, because soon enough, and usually sooner than we would like to think, it will be gone.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do