The link between gratitude and happiness

When everything is going great, you feel great and on top of the world. But more often than not, there are things in your life that you’re just not that happy about. You might be stressed out at work, have financial problems or be in a fight with your significant other. It’s easy to get completely pulled into the mayhem and only focus on your problems. Is there a way to still be happy in the midst of your crisis? According to research there is and it starts by practicing gratitude.

Gratitude is not simply positivity

Before we get into the link between gratitude and happiness, let’s first define what gratitude actually is and what it is not. According to researchers Michael McCullough, PhD, and Robert Emmons, PhD, feeling grateful consists of two parts. First it’s recognizing that something good has come your way. Then it’s also realizing that someone or something is at least in part responsible for that something good. It’s not simply ignoring the negative things in your life in favor of the positive. But it’s reminding yourself that good things can also happen even when times are hard.

Feeling grateful to feel happy

So how does gratefulness help you to feel happier? Time and time again studies have shown that people who regularly practice gratitude tend to feel happier and more satisfied with their lives. A clinical trial from 2019 had 1,337 participants write a daily gratitude list for 14 days. Researchers found that doing this might boost feelings of satisfaction and increase positive emotions. It could also lead to fewer negative emotions, higher subjective happiness and a decrease in symptoms of depression.

In a study by Sonja Lyubomirsky,professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, participants were asked to write down five things they were grateful for once a week for ten weeks. Participants in other control groups were asked to write down five major events or hassles that had occurred that week. Lyubormirsky found that the first group felt more satisfied and optimistic after the experiment. They also reported less physical symptoms, like headaches, coughing, and acne and that they spent more time exercising.

These are just two studies that demonstrate the power of feeling grateful, but there are more. You might also want to read up about this 2019 study of women with breast cancer, this 2018 clinical trial on the impact of daily gratitude journaling and this 2017 assessment of joy and the relationship to gratitude and well-being.

How to practice gratitude

Even when the world seems to be crumbling down around you, there are usually still things in your life that you can be happy about. Pull yourself out of the turmoil for a moment and reflect on the people that you appreciate, happy memories or the things that did go well during the day. Even focusing on small things could shift your mood, like the beautiful flower you walked past, the fact that you have hot water in the shower or the person that held the elevator for you. Just pausing and noticing what it’s like to sit with that feeling of thankfulness could lead to a significantly greater sense of life satisfaction, according to this 2021 study of 133 Chinese mindfulness practitioners.

As we saw from the studies above, journaling about the things you are grateful for at the end of the day can be a great way to practice gratitude. Write a few things down every day or maybe just once a week to start feeling more positive and satisfied with your life. Something else that seems to help is a thing called mental subtraction. When something happens that you’re grateful for, try to imagine what things would have been like if it hadn’t happened or if something else with a less positive outcome had happened. That makes you all the more grateful for the positive thing that did happen.

Showing gratitude

When you feel grateful for something, it can help boost your sense of well-being by also expressing that gratefulness. You could do that by writing gratitude letters for example to the person you’re grateful for. But it doesn’t have to be a person. You could also be grateful for an object, an experience or an event for example. Address who or whatever you’re grateful for directly to let them know how you feel. If you’re writing to a person you could consider actually giving them the letter, but that’s absolutely not necessary. Just writing can already give you a happiness boost.

If you’re a spiritual person it’s great to incorporate gratitude in your prayers to a higher power or maybe nature or the universe. Research from 2021 shows that this can enhance feelings of well-being and even gratitude itself.

Source: PsychCentral

Ilona Braam

Ilona is a Digital Media Design graduate, content writer/creator and a whole bunch of other things. A few words that would describe her are jolly, creative, nerdy, curious and a bit dark.