It’s almost Thanksgiving, so it’s a good time to pause for a moment to consider the importance and benefits of gratitude.
Gratitude, from the Latin for gratia, which means grace or thankfulness (depending on context), is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness, as well as better physical and mental health, reads a note from Harvard Medical School. “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships,” researchers write.
Indeed, it seems there are few conditions or examples in which gratitude doesn’t appear to have a positive effect. A psychologist from the University of Birmingham noted in 2013 that the “list of potential benefits is almost endless: fewer intellectual biases, more effective learning strategies, more helpfulness towards others, raised self-confidence, better work attitude, strengthened resiliency, less physical pain, improved health, and longevity.”
Here are five more ways gratitude can positively impact people’s lives, based on specific studies:
1. Grateful people are more hopeful and healthier
Like many other studies, this 2015 paper in the Journal of Religion and Health found that those who were more grateful for who they are and what they have were more hopeful and also physically healthier. Psychology Today cites several studies that found people who report being more grateful also report feeling fewer aches and pains, and are more likely to go to the doctor and take care of themselves.
Some of this can possibly be shrugged off as a by-product of happiness: Those who are feeling better tend to be more thankful. But this is not always the case. Dozens of studies have shown that when people actively take the time to list the things they are grateful for, they feel better mentally and physically than participants who haven’t done the same.
In other words, gratitude’s benefits are not only correlational, but in some cases causal. Gratitude can act “directly, as a causal agent of well-being; and indirectly, as a means of buffering against negative states and emotions,” reads a 2009 paper in Counselling Psychology Review.
2. Improved sleep quality
Something as simple as writing down a list of things you are thankful for at the end of the day can also help people sleep better. A 2009 study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research found that those who expressed gratitude more often slept better and longer than those who didn’t.
3. Increased self-esteem
A 2014 paper in the Journal of Applied Sports Psychology found that athletes who expressed more gratitude toward their coaches and also in general had higher self-esteem two and six months later compared to those who weren’t as openly thankful.
4. Increased helpfulness and empathy
One 2006 study in the journal Psychological Science found that those who expressed more gratitude were also more likely to help out others. So “pro-social” behaviors are in turn linked to greater happiness.
Empathy also apparently increases when people are thankful. A 2012 paper in Social Psychology and Personality Science found that higher levels of gratitude were linked to greater empathy and lowered aggression. “Gratitude motivates people to express sensitivity and concern for others,” the researchers wrote.
5. Increased resilience
In a 2006 study in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy, scientists found that Vietnam War veterans with high levels of gratitude were more resilient, and less impacted by post-traumatic stress disorder. Another 2003 paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people with neuromuscular diseases who kept “gratitude journals” reported a greater sense of well-being and more positive moods at the end of the study, compared with those who didn’t make such lists.