Science on the benefits of gratitude
Expressing gratitude is a lot more than saying thank you. Emerging research has recently started to draw attention to its multiple benefits. People who are consistently grateful have been found to be relatively happier, more energetic, and more hopeful and to report experiencing more frequent positive emotions. They also tend to be more helpful and empathic, more spiritual and religious, more forgiving, and less materialistic than others who are less predisposed to gratefulness. Furthermore, the more a person is inclined to gratitude, the less likely he or she is to be depressed, anxious, lonely, envious, or neurotic.2 All these research findings, however, are correlational, meaning that we cannot know conclusively whether being grateful actually causes all those good things (or inhibits bad things), or whether possessing traits like hopefulness, helpfulness, and religiosity simply makes people feel grateful. Fortunately, several experimental studies have now been done that solicit expressions of gratitude from unsuspecting individuals and then record the consequences.
In the very first such set of studies, one group
of participants was asked to write down five things for which they were
thankful—namely, to count their blessings—and to do so once a week for
ten weeks in a row.3 Other groups of participants participated in the
control groups; instead of focusing on gratitude every week, these
individuals were asked to think about either five daily hassles or five
major events that had occurred to them. The findings were exciting.
Relative to the control groups, those participants from whom expressions
of gratitude were solicited tended to feel more optimistic and more
satisfied with their lives. Even their health received a boost; they
reported fewer physical symptoms (such as headache, acne, coughing, or
nausea) and more time spent exercising.
The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want (Sonja Lyubomirsky)