Gratitude Linked to Happiness and Health

With proponents like Oprah leading the cause, it’s no wonder that gratitude has become a hot topic in recent years. But the idea of gratitude greatly pre-dates Ms. Winfrey; Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus have been encouraging us to express gratefulness for centuries.

In the 21st century we’re learning why the concept of gratitude receives such universal support – it comes back to us in spades. Researchers are finding that the impact of gratitude on health and well-being is undeniable.

Michael McCullough, Ph.D and Robert Emmons, Ph.D, gratitude gurus from the, have conducted numerous studies to evaluate the effect of gratitude on happiness, stress, and even exercise. What they found was that people who engaged in self-guided gratitude exercises reported feeling better about their lives and more optimistic for the future.

Researchers are finding that this positivity brought on my gratitude extends to benefits in physical health as well. Emmons and McCullough found that participants in their gratitude study who were more grateful reported fewer health complaints and symptoms of physical illness and even got more sleep. They also exercised up to 1.5 hours per week more than those who did not complete the gratitude exercises.

Glen Affleck, Ph.D, a University of Connecticut psychologist, suggests that gratitude is good for the heart as well. He and his colleagues found that when cardiac patients reported greater feelings of gratitude, they took more responsibility for their heart heath and were less likely to experience subsequent heart attacks.

So, how do you cultivate gratitude in your life?

Start a gratitude journal – Keeping a nightly journal in which you record the things for which you are thankful makes you more grateful throughout the day. You’ll find yourself looking for things to document. Or better yet, keep a list going on a small notebook you can carry with you or on your iPhone.

Write a gratitude letter – Researchers have found that even the act of writing a letter of gratitude to someone for whom you are appreciative can boost your mood. Actually delivering it only boosts the health benefits.

Surround yourself with grateful people – Ensure that the people with whom you choose to spend your time share your perspective on gratitude and optimism. We take on the moods – good and bad – of those around us.

Create a daily practice – Make gratitude part of your routine. Stick post-it notes in places you frequent (like the bathroom) with messages of gratitude or commit to spending your morning commute to coming up with three things you’re grateful for that day.

[box type=”note”]Gratitude is an attitude, one that has to practiced regularly to reap the full benefits. Get started today and you’ll be happier and healthier in a matter of weeks![/box]

Ashley Solomon, Psy.D

I am a therapist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, trauma, and serious mental illness. Visit Dr. Solomon's body image blog,

3 thoughts on “Gratitude Linked to Happiness and Health

  • October 10, 2010 at 9:12 am


    that’s probably a good idea and I actually tried to implement it quite a few weeks ago. I set up a timer for half an hour of gratitude. I tried to list things that I’m grateful for.. At first it was probably nothing. I didn’t feel any change. Then it became a chore. I started feeling worse during the exercise – it felt so superficial.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m always thankful for people who helped me and I do mean it, when I say “Thank you”. In my opinion – none of those people had to help me, but they did, so at very least it’s worth a “Thanks”.

    But when I start to list those things and people everyday.. Well, like I said – it feels superficial and depressing. “I already said thanks to him, how is saying thank you again in my head going to change anything?… Yes I do have healthy body, but who am I thankful to? The evolution process that adapted me to this environment? It doesn’t care about thanks.” :)

    And so on.

    So, maybe this isn’t really for everybody. Or there’s something wrong with me :)

    • October 10, 2010 at 9:40 am


      I definitely don’t think that something’s wrong with you! We all have different needs and respond differently to various exercises and experiences. Perhaps making a daily list isn’t helpful to you. There are lots of other ways to cultivate and express gratitude – like saying “thank you” as you mentioned. The way that I look at it (which isn’t necessarily how others look at it) is that being grateful is for yourself, not for anyone or anything else. So, for example, it doesn’t matter that the evolution process doesn’t care about my gratitude, I still feel it. But again, that’s just my own perspective. Thanks for sharing your experience!


      • October 11, 2010 at 1:29 pm


        thank you too for replying. :)


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