The power of gratitude

A little thankfulness will do you a lot of good.

Two people embracing and smiling.
Photo: Pexels/Rodnae Productions.

This is the time of year when many people give thanks for what they have and are intentional about showing gratitude. Not only is this a good practice, but research indicates that gratitude is good for us in many ways. Harvard Health describes gratitude as “thankful appreciation for what an individual receives.” Here a person acknowledges that the goodness in their lives may come in part from an outer source. Harvard Health also states that "[a]s a result, being grateful also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.”

People who practice gratitude are happier and experience greater life satisfaction, according to the University of California Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center. Practicing gratitude has also been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, strengthen immunity and overall health, improve sleep, make us more resilient, encourage forgiveness and strengthen relationships. Individuals who practice gratitude tend to “pay it forward,” and are generally more helpful and compassionate towards others.

The benefits of gratitude are not just for those with a naturally positive outlook. It is a skill anyone can develop. Here are some tips to cultivate gratitude:

  • Keep a gratitude or blessings journal. Before bed, write down three things that went well in your day. These can be small or ordinary things, like a beautiful sunset or a pleasant conversation with a friend. Think about why these good things happened. Keeping a blessings journal refocuses one’s attention toward the positive.
  • Write and send a “letter of gratitude” to someone who has positively impacted your life. This could be a family member, teacher, coach, or friend. Such a letter could provide a strong and lasting happiness boost, especially if delivered in person.
  • Savor and enjoy the good. Practicing mindfulness can be a helpful way to cultivate awareness of the good in one’s life. Michigan State University Extension offers numerous Mindfulness for Better Living programs. Of note, 92% of past participants shared that they now understand the power of gratitude to relieve stress.
  • Focus on positive intentions. After receiving an act of kindness or generosity, think about or focus on the fact that someone was purposeful in bringing goodness into your life. Such thinking helps cultivate “an attitude of gratitude” among both adults and children.

Practicing gratitude allows people to appreciate what they have instead of focusing on what they lack. Cultivating a grateful mindset is possible over time and yields numerous benefits. For more information on caring for your social-emotional health, visit MSU Extension's Healthy Relationships website.

Did you find this article useful?