Here are seven surprising benefits of practicing gratitude.
Research from Northeastern University has found that people who felt grateful for little, everyday things were more patient and better able to make sensible decisions, compared to those who didn’t feel very gracious on a day-to-day basis. When 105 undergraduate students were asked to choose between receiving a small amount of money immediately or a larger sum at some point in the future, for example, the students who had shown more gratitude in earlier experiments were able to hold out for more cash.
According to a study in the Journal of Theoretical Social Psychology, feeling grateful toward your partner — and vice versa — can improve numerous aspects of your relationship, including feelings of connectedness and overall satisfaction as a couple. “Having a partner that’s grateful for you or you being grateful for the other” can both help your love life, says Emma Seppälä, a happiness researcher at Stanford and Yale Universities and author of The Happiness Track. (Seppälä wasn’t involved with the research.)
In a study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, researchers asked people to rate their levels of gratitude, physical health, and psychological health, as well as how likely they were to do wellbeing-boosting behaviors like exercise, healthy eating and going to the doctor. They found positive correlations between gratitude and each of these behaviors, suggesting that giving thanks helps people appreciate and care for their bodies.
“Count blessings, not sheep,” Seppälä says. Research in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research has found that feeling grateful helps people sleep better and longer. That’s likely because “you have more positive thoughts before you go to sleep,” says Seppälä (who wasn’t involved in the study), which may soothe the nervous system. If you’re going to make a daily gratitude list, Seppälä recommends writing it before bed.
“Gratitude replenishes willpower,” says Susan Peirce Thompson, a cognitive scientist who specializes in the psychology of eating. The concept is similar to the Northeastern research that found a connection between gratitude and patience: Thompson says cultivating feelings of gratitude can boost your impulse control, helping you slow down and make better decisions. If you find yourself taking slice after slice of pumpkin pie, for example, Thompson recommends excusing yourself from the table to jot down a quick list of things you’re grateful for, which can help you clear your mind and reset.
Thompson, the cognitive scientist, says experiments have shown that people whole partake in the “three good things” exercise — which, as the name suggests, prompts people to think of three good moments or things that happened that day — see considerable improvements in depression and overall happiness, sometimes in as little as a couple weeks. “If there were a drug that did that, whoever patented that drug would be rich,” Thompson says. “Gratitude is very powerful.”
Lots of things, from a compliment to a sugary treat, can bring little bursts of happiness. But instant gratification also goes away quickly, Seppälä explains, which leaves you craving more. “Gratitude is something that leads to much more sustainable forms of happiness because it’s not based on that immediate gratification; it’s a frame of mind,” she says. If you regularly take time to express gratitude and thankfulness, you’re likely to see results.