The Scientific Connection Between Gratitude and Happiness

Studies have shown that gratitude is a powerful force for creating positive changes in individuals, families, and organizations.

We can boost gratitude in our lives by intensifying the feeling of it for each positive event, by increasing the frequency of it throughout the day, by expanding the number of things we’re grateful for, and by expressing gratitude to more people. But the most effective multiplier of gratitude, said Emmons, is humility: “At the cornerstone of gratitude is the notion of undeserved merit. The grateful person recognizes that he or she did nothing to deserve the gift or benefit; it was freely bestowed.”

 

Studies have shown that gratitude is a powerful force for creating positive changes in individuals, families, and organizations. According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, a research professor of psychology, “The expression of gratitude is a kind of metastrategy for achieving happiness.” Here are some of the research findings, published in books such as The Happiness AdvantageFlourish, and Optimal Functioning.

  • Grateful people have more energy, happiness, and friends and also enjoy better sleep and overall health.
  • Writing down what made people happy, lowered stress levels and increased a sense of calm.
  • Counting acts of kindness done and received increases levels of positivity.
  • A study of resilience and emotions following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States found that gratitude helps people cope with painful and stressful life events.
  • Grateful people are more helpful people because they remember how thankful they feel when helped.
  • Gratitude reduces negative comparisons with others.
  • When we express our gratitude to others, we strengthen our relationship with them.
  • Gratitude reduces negative emotions like anger, envy, greed, and anxiety.

Thanksgiving is much more than saying “Thank you” for a present or benefit we’ve received. The world’s most prominent researcher and writer about gratitude, Robert Emmons, said it is “a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life.”

We can boost gratitude in our lives by intensifying the feeling of it for each positive event, by increasing the frequency of it throughout the day, by expanding the number of things we’re grateful for, and by expressing gratitude to more people. But the most effective multiplier of gratitude, said Emmons, is humility: “At the cornerstone of gratitude is the notion of undeserved merit. The grateful person recognizes that he or she did nothing to deserve the gift or benefit; it was freely bestowed.”

Again, don’t we Christians start with such an advantage here, given that our whole faith is based on grace, the sense of a completely undeserved salvation that has been freely given us by a gracious God?

David Murray is Professor of Old Testament & Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. This article first appeared on his blog, Head Heart Hand, and is used with permission.