The Science-Backed Benefits of Being Grateful

Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.

Zig Ziglar
[3-min read]

Every night as I tuck my 4-year-old into bed, I ask her the same question:

“What made you feel grateful today?”

Her answer changes every time.

Some nights, she has one ready to go. Other nights, she playfully says something silly.

But frequently, she needs a little nudge to remember something special from her day.

So we walk down memory lane, revisiting the day’s highlights.

I gently suggest: “Did it make you happy when we played on the slides at the park?” or “Were you grateful for that yummy pizza we had at dinner?”

Gratitude, I’ve discovered, is a powerful tool to turn negative thoughts into positive ones.

Understanding this has taken me some time, but it’s significantly boosted my ability to find happiness.

I’m eager for my daughter to build a solid foundation in gratitude early on, preparing her for the twists and turns of life.

The Science of Gratitude

Recent scientific studies show taking this daily can...

  • Boost heart health

  • Lower inflammation

  • Enhance sleep quality

  • Strengthen relationships

  • Speed up trauma recovery

  • Reduce feelings of depression

  • Build resilience to stress & anxiety

  • Trigger release of dopamine & serotonin

How can you achieve all this?

By taking...

a moment to jot down what you're grateful for. No kidding.

Controlled studies from 2020 – 2023 prove it: Gratitude journaling has real health benefits, both mental and physical.

So, how do you start?

It's easy. Grab a notebook. Or your computer. Or even your phone (it’s always nearby).

Now, write down one thing you’re grateful for:

  1. About your day

  2. About yourself

  3. About someone else

Or simply list out 3 to 5 things you’re grateful for. If you’re struggling to think of 3 things, start small:

  • Having a place to sleep at night

  • That friend you always laugh with

  • The breath that just filled your lungs

That's it.

The people in the studies did this daily for 4, 6, or 8 weeks. The benefits showed up quickly.

Expressing gratitude is part of a branch of psychology called Positive Psychology.

Here’s an infographic I created on it. Click it for a high-res PDF version.

Making It Work for You

Commit to trying gratitude journaling every day for the next 4 weeks. It takes less than 5 mins, and usually only 1 or 2.

Pick a time when you can do it consistently. Stack it with another habit you have to make it easier to remember, like:

  • First thing after you wake up

  • Right when you sit down to eat breakfast

  • When you’re at your desk before starting work each day

  • As part of your wind-down routine before you go to sleep at night

Write with pen and paper or in an app?

There's no one-size-fits-all answer. Some say handwriting might have extra benefits, like helping to improve memory.

If you’re curious about which works best for you, try both methods. Stick with whichever feels good and keeps you going.

Diving Deeper

Want to learn more about the science of gratitude? Dr. Robert Emmons wrote the book on it — lots of them, in fact. Here’s one of the more approachable ones to get started: The Little Book of Gratitude: Create a life of happiness and wellbeing by giving thanks. 

There are 2 TED Talks I love on this topic:

How Gratitude Rewires Your Brain by Christina Costa, a psychologist who had to put her own well-being research into practice when she was diagnosed with cancer.

Want to Be Happy? Be Grateful by Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast. His premise: Happiness doesn’t make you grateful. Gratitude makes you happy.

Connecting the Dots

Gratitude isn’t just a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have for a balanced and fulfilling life.

It’s not about ignoring the hard parts of life. It’s about giving more weight to what’s good, making the challenges feel a bit lighter.

So, give gratitude journaling a try. It might just be the small step that leads to big changes in your life.

Until next time, remember to find a moment for gratitude every day.