37 Research-Backed Benefits of Gratitude
The first thing I ever knew about gratitude was that it fostered happiness. But once I started digging into the research, I discovered the benefits of gratitude go way beyond that.
I was a bit blown away, and I think you will be too. Below you’ll find one of the most comprehensive lists of the benefits of gratitude. All backed by research, surveys, and experts. And I hope it inspires you to practice more gratitude in your own life.
The benefits are broken down into different categories: Emotional, Social, Professional, Health, and Personality/Behavior.
Emotional Benefits of Gratitude
1. Gratitude Makes You Happy
Happiness is what put gratitude on the map. In recent years, research has shown so many benefits, but this is probably the first that made people take notice.
Dr. Robert Emmons is one of the foremost experts on gratitude. As a researcher, he has a long list of published studies, as well as two books on the topic: Gratitude Works! and Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier.
One of his most well known studies divided people into three different groups over 10 weeks. The first group wrote down five things they were grateful for from their previous week. The second group wrote down 5 hassles. And the final group simply wrote down 5 events that happened to them.
While a number of benefits were found for people who expressed gratitude, one of the biggest outcomes was happiness.
How much happier were they?
By Dr. Emmons numbers, people in the gratitude condition were a full 25% happier. That’s a pretty significant spike in happiness.
2. It Boosts Life Satisfaction
Research has shown that gratitude has a unique and positive affect with our level of life satisfaction.
One study of over 940 people in Japan and the US found that gratitude was associated with satisfaction in several different life domains. Once several demographic and personality factors were adjusted for, gratitude was still positively associated with relationship satisfaction and life satisfaction.
Other research has shown that gratitude even boosted life satisfaction for teenagers by 15%.
3. It Can Enhance Self-Esteem
One of the more recent studies that has linked gratitude to higher self-esteem was published in 2015 in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
After researchers measured gratitude, well-being, and self-esteem, they saw that higher levels of gratitude were associated with more self-esteem.
For a more concrete example, another study found that over the course of six months, athletes self-esteem increased by using gratitude between coaches and athletes.
4. Helps You Focus On The Positive
Gratitude has been shown to give us what researchers call a positive memory bias. Meaning that you’re more likely to recall positive memories from your past.
They also found that when negative memories do arise, they’re less intense.
5. It Reduces Envy
Psychologists say that gratitude is one of the best ways to reduce envy. It does this buy reducing the amount of social comparison that we can sometimes do.
If you want to stop getting angry because your neighbor has a nicer car or a bigger home, be grateful for the things you have in your life.
Happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky gives this a mention in The How of Happiness:
…the more a person is inclined to gratitude, the less likely he or she is to be depressed, anxious, lonely, envious, or neurotic.
Personality & Behavior Benefits of Gratitude
6. Gratitude Can Increase Optimism
Have you ever been told that your a pessimist? Or do you tend to see the negative in most situations, while others seem to be more positive?
A number of different studies have shown that gratitude can help boost your levels of optimism.
Dr. Robert Emmons published research showing that people who were instructed to write about things they were grateful for over 10 weeks had a boost in optimism levels of 5%. He then ran a second study with similar conditions, with the resulting optimism being boosted by 15%.
7. Gratitude Boosts Your Willpower
One of the curious things about gratitude is how it spills over into so many different areas of your life.
You wouldn’t think that gratitude would have anything to do with your self-control. But one study tracked students and had them report level of gratitude during random times of day.
When the participants were asked if they wanted $30 now or $50 at some point in time for the future, the ones that experienced more gratitude throughout the day, were more likely to wait for the larger sum of money.
To psychologists, this is a good sign of having more self-restraint. One of the authors from the study sums it up by saying:
That suggests that the more you regularly experience gratitude, the more self-control you have in various areas of your life.
8. Reduces Aggression
A paper published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science in 2011 used a number of different experimental designs over 5 different studies.
One of the studies placed students into a scenario were they could retaliate to negative feedback from an individual. Those students who were placed in a gratitude condition were less intense and shorter retaliation than other students.
Another study done over 4 years found that teenagers who are more grateful have less anti-social and are also less prone to delinquent behavior, among many other positive benefits.
9. It Makes You Kinder
Their research showed over 4 different experiments how gratitude can make us kinder people. Not only did it make people more likely to help people in the future, but would also showed that a single expression of gratitude would increase the time spent helping by 15%.
10. Gracious People Have More Energy
Positive emotions have been shown to invigorate and motivate people
In two different experiments – one involving over 200 people and another over 1600 – one study showed that there was a strong correlation between vitality and gratitude.
Researchers found this correlation held even after looking at personality factors like extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. So these levels of vitality couldn’t be attributed to people simply because they were naturally more outgoing or get along well with others.
11. Makes You More Generous
Gratitude and generosity have been called two sides of the same coin. Social science research has the pair popping up together in a multitude of studies.
A survey in 2015 – called the Templeton Giving Study – found that people who thought about gratitude daily were more than twice as likely to donate 10% or more of their income. The John Templeton Foundation has also said that people who feel grateful give 20% more time and money to charity.
12. More Likely To Forgive Others
A study in 2003 found that people who express gratitude tend to be more willing to forgive others.
13. Gracious People Are Less Narcissistic
Narcissists are very “me” focused. They’re the star of the show and everyone just lives in their world. Empathy is difficult for them, but so is expressing their thanks to someone else. Mostly because gratitude forces you to think about others.
So you won’t be surprised to find that the study mentioned above that looked at forgiveness, also found that gratitude was also negatively associated with narcissism.
14. Makes You Less Materialistic
Envy and materialism share a common link. If you find yourself envious of another person’s house, car, or situation in life, you may be more inclined to make purchases that outshine someone else.
Materialism can also can from a psychological desire to prove oneself, especially if they suffer from lower-self esteem. Gratitude has been shown to make us less envious, but a studies have also found that being grateful is negatively correlated with materialism.
15. Gratitude Gives More Meaning to Your Life
When researchers were studying suicide, they believed that having a meaning in life would reduce a person’s suicidal tendencies.
They realized that affecting a person’s meaning in life directly would be difficult to achieve. They found that by enhancing a person’s grit and gratitude together could increase meaning in life, and gave people resiliency against suicidal thoughts or plans.
16. Gratitude Reduces Anxiety
A 2014 study published in Aging and Mental Health had people go through a program focused around forgiveness and gratitude. As a result they showed a reduction in anxiety and depression, not to mention increase in things like happiness and life satisfaction.
A reduction in anxious thoughts may also help explain why gratitude helps you sleep better.
17. It Makes You More Resilient
There are a number of factors that have been linked to resilient people. Among those included are strong social connections, optimism, and a sense of purpose and meaning.
Gratitude has shown to be positively related to many of these factors. Not to mention that they can help buffer against stress and depression. One such review of academic literature found gratitude associated with less anxiety and depression. All of them qualities that can make one more resilient to negative situations or events in life.
For example, a study looking at Vietnam war veterans found that those with higher levels of gratitude had lower rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
18. Grateful People Have Better Grades
A study looking at the effect of gratitude in adolescents found a number of benefits, including better life satisfaction, lower feelings of envy, and less depression.
They also found that grateful teens also had higher GPA’s.
Social Benefits of Gratitude
19. Gratitude Helps Form New Friendships
Many researchers believed that gratitude helps in forming new social bonds. But a paper published in the journal Emotion was the first to test the theory.
Scientists from Australia had university students believe they were mentoring young high school students. These mentees then asked for help with an admissions essay for college.
Afterword, all the mentors received a handwritten note from the mentee, and in half of them an expression of gratitude was included thanking them for their work.
Researchers found that participants who had been thanked not only rated the mentee’s personality as warmer, but they were also more likely to give out their phone number or email address.
20. It Deepens Social Relationships
Gratitude helps you form stronger bonds among those that you find in your social circles.
One study found evidence that expressions of gratitude enhances the perception of the strength of the bond.
Gratitude has also been found to strengthen relationships by fostering other relationship building behaviors, social affiliation, and time spent together.
21. Boosts Satisfaction in Romantic Relationships
Gratitude gives a measured boost to relationship satisfaction.
Researchers had couples use daily journals to keep track of couples’ satisfaction, as well as each individual’s gratitude for small acts of caring that were performed by their partner.
When a person expressed gratitude for such behavior, the researchers saw relationship satisfaction increase. And they saw it for both people.
In fact, the boost in relationship satisfaction were still noticeable the next day.
22. Keeps Romantic Relationships Healthy
Every couple goes through a honeymoon phase. But as our lives change and we’re faced with new challenges, our relationships also have to adjust.
Don’t be fooled by Hollywood. Keeping the love alive between two people takes work. And gratitude is one of the best ways to maintain a strong bond with your significant other.
The fact that a relationship needs maintaining doesn’t sound sexy. But researcher Amie Gordon and her team found in a series of studies that when looking at gratitude, they could predict which couples would break up 9 months later.
Those who feel appreciated are more likely to stay with their partner.
Another study found that expressing gratitude made a partner more more comfortable and trusting. It boosted a positive image of the other person which, in turn, made them more likely to voice other concerns and strengthening the bond between two people.
23. Gratitude Can Help Overcome Marital Problems
The results of the research showed that gratitude was the best predictor of marital quality. It was also the most consistent.
They noticed that when couples started fighting, there was a common pattern of behavior that would further degrade the relationship. One person would criticize or nag, leading the partner to withdraw or avoid any confrontation. This would lead to a lower quality of marriage.
Researchers found that gratitude helps counteract this type behavioral pattern in marriages, and had an overall protective effect against stress in the relationship. An author of the study gives us some advice:
What distinguishes the marriages that last from those that don’t is not how often they argue, but how they argue and how they treat each other on a daily basis.
Health Benefits of Gratitude
24. It Boosts Your Mental Health
When we go to the doctor, we’re making sure we’re physically healthy. But our mental health is important too. And gratitude has been shown to be one of the easiest and quickest ways to improve our mental health.
Not convinced? Robert Emmons is a researcher who has looked extensively at how gratitude affects us. This is what he says about practicing gratitude in his book Gratitude Works!:
Gratitude has one of the strongest links to mental health and satisfaction with life of any personality trait—more so than even optimism, hope, or compassion.
Grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism, and gratitude as a discipline protects us from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness.
25. It Also Boosts Physical Health
Looking at a large group of Swiss adults, a study found that gratitude was associated with better physical health. The study showed that this was due to factors like better psychological health, physical activities, and seeking help when health concerns arose.
26. Can Help You Sleep Better
Some people have problems going to sleep because their mind is always racing. Part of the problem may be because they are focusing on negative thoughts or worrying in general.
One study showed that a gratitude intervention right before sleep helped students calm their minds and sleep better.
A similar but separate study showed that better sleep quality, longer duration, and had fewer negative pre-sleep thoughts. And this was all independent of personality traits.
27. Gratitude Can Lower Blood Pressure
In a series of studies, researchers in 2003 found that keeping a gratitude journal for 10 weeks was shown to have a 10 percent drop in blood pressure.
28. Gratitude Associated with Healthy Hearts
Gratitude can literally help you keep a healthy heart.
Dr. Paul Mills, who was a part of the study, sums up the research of patients who kept gratitude journals:
We found that those patients who kept gratitude journals for those eight weeks showed reductions in circulating levels of several important inflammatory biomarkers, as well as an increase in heart rate variability while they wrote.
29. It Promotes Physical Activity And Other Healthy Behaviors
One study found that participants who wrote in gratitude journals exercised 1.5 hours more than others who didn’t.
To be clear, the result from this study was more likely an indirect effect of gratitude. It doesn’t mean that you’ll get an overwhelming urge to go out and run a mile or anything.
However, gratitude has been associated with keeping physically active along with other positive health related behaviors. The link is even stronger in older adults than it is in younger adults.
30. Reduces Stress
Two different studies observed students as they were making their big transition to college. Researchers recorded measures at the beginning and end of the first semester. They showed that students who had a more gracious attitude were buffered against stress.
The big reason why this occurred was because gratitude helped them perceive higher levels of social support during their time of transition.
31. Protects Against Depression
Having a stressful life increases your chance for depression. So it’s no surprise that gratitude can also help protect people against depression.
A study has produced evidence that this is the case. It showed that gratitude helped reduce not only how often people experienced depression, but also the duration of the episodes.
Other gratitude interventions have been shown to reduce depressive symptoms by 30 to 35%.
32. Stronger Immune System
One of the more influential studies using gratitude journals from Robert Emmons found that people had 10% fewer stress related illnesses.
33. Gives You A Longer Life
This is what I would call another one of those “spillover” effects of gratitude.
There hasn’t been a study that links gratitude with a longer lifespan directly. However, gratitude does affect many of the variables found to affect how long one lives from other research.
Let’s take a brief look. Among some of those factors linked to longer life are stronger social connections, reduced stress, and higher levels of optimism. And let’s not forget gratitude is also associated with better physical and mental health in general.
Professional Benefits of Gratitude
34. It Boosts Your Productivity
Gratitude doesn’t exactly make you churn out TPS reports or presentations faster. At least not directly.
But because gratitude has been shown from multiple studies that it’s an effective happiness booster, you most likely will be more efficient in your workplace.
A study in the Journal of Labor Economics showed that happier employees were about 12% more productive in the office.
Why? Dr. Daniel Sgroi tells us what’s happening:
The driving force seems to be that happier workers use the time they have more effectively, increasing the pace at which they can work without sacrificing quality.
So gratitude in the workplace boosts your happiness. Which in turn, boosts productivity.
35. It Can Help You Deal With a Horrible Boss
Most of us have worked for a horrible boss at one time or another. One study found that bosses sometimes lash out at their coworkers.
But here’s what stopped them from being a terror in the office. Expressions of gratitude increased feelings of social worth for managers. The authors write:
…high-power participants whose competence was threatened denigrated their subordinates. Importantly, this pattern disappeared when the subordinate expressed gratitude.
36. It Makes You a Better Leader
Gratitude has shown to be a strong motivator at work. And those in the upper ranks of companies should take notice.
A survey funded by the John Templeton Foundation in 2013 saw that over 80% of 2,000 people that were polled said that receiving gratitude would make them work harder. But only 10% of those same people said they expressed gratitude to fellow workers every day.
The survey basically revealed that the workplace was one of the least likely places that people expressed gratitude.
Other research has shown gratitude in the workplace and other organizations can predict levels of job satisfaction.
37. It Inspires Productivity In Others
In one experiment from the University of Pennsylvania, a group of workers received a talk from a ranking director who thanked them for their efforts. The following week, those workers made 50% more fundraising calls on behalf of the organization, as compared to a group of workers who hadn’t heard the talk.
Additionally, a survey was conducted by company Glassdoor – an online site for employers. They found that 81% of people were motivated to work harder when their boss showed appreciation for their work.
Also, more than half the people from the same survey said they’d stick around their company longer if their boss was more grateful.
How Do I Cultivate Gratitude?
Gratitude is a little more involved than you might first think. It’s more than just saying “thank you” every once in awhile.
Actually making gratitude a normal part of your routing, or a regular behavior takes time and effort. The good news is that many of the exercises or practices of gratitude are pretty simple and don’t take much time. Not exactly complex, but not so easy over the long haul.
Cultivating gratitude is a topic for another article. But if you’re curious about what researchers and experts recommend, or the many different ways you can practice, be sure to check back or subscribe to the newsletter.