Being Thankful Can Make You Happier

Less depression and more kindness

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Thanksgiving is traditionally the time to express gratitude for all we are thankful for in life. But this "attitude of gratitude" can also go a long way toward making you happier.

Cultivating such as attitude reduces depression, anxiety and aggression, and is also linked to better health, sounder sleep, kinder behavior toward others and higher satisfaction with life in general. And there's plenty of research to prove it.

"Focus on what you're thankful for."

Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, runs a lab in which he analyzes the effects of gratitude on our mental and physical health. Often working with Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, Emmons instructed study participants to keep a "gratitude journal," listing five things daily for which they felt thankful.

Compared with a control group, those who kept such journals on a weekly basis were more optimistic, made more progress toward goals and reported higher levels of positive states of enthusiasm and alertness. They had more positive moods, helped others more and felt better about their lives as a whole.

There were also differences in physical health. The journaling group reporting fewer physical symptoms, more energy, and better sleep quality. In participants with neuromuscular disease, a 21-day gratitude intervention resulted in the same positive physical and psychological effects.

"Gratitude is literally one of the few things that can measurably change people's lives," Emmons writes in his book, Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier.

At the University of Kentucky, a study led by Nathan DeWall looked at the effect gratitude has on aggression and empathy. Students turned in an essay paper, for which some received praise and others received scathing criticisms. Afterward, each student played a computer game against the person who had evaluated their paper.

In the game, the winner could administer a loud blast of white noise at the loser. Those who had received bad evaluations on their papers sent much louder blasts than those who had gotten positive feedback.

But one thing changed that tendency. One subgroup of students had been instructed to write their essays about things they were grateful for. Those students, after receiving harsh critiques, did not send louder blasts in the computer game. It appeared that after counting their blessings, they were no longer bothered by the negative criticism. "Higher empathy mediated the relationship between gratitude and lower aggression," DeWall wrote in the journal, Social Psychological & Personality Science. "Gratitude motivates people to express sensitivity and concern for others and stimulates prosocial behavior."

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 23, 2011
Last Updated:
November 23, 2011