Do you know what gratitude is?

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Quick Hits:

  • Gratitude is not simply saying “thank you”.

  • You should be intentionally practicing gratitude daily because of its many proven physical and psychological health benefits.

  • Simple, quick exercises can help you realize these many benefits.(action steps listed below)

Personal disclaimer (you can skip this part if you just want the tips):  I LOVE this topic more than just about any other.  I’m fascinated by gratitude.  I’ve spoken to people who have made gratitude the cornerstone of their lives.  It is the foundation of their spiritual condition.  I’ve also spoken to people who have ever hardly given it a second thought.  To me, anything that covers that much ground has got to be interesting.  This post discusses the academic research that has defined gratitude, proven its utility in our lives, and prescribed ways to practice it.  Whether you practice gratitude daily, or never think about it, I suspect you’ll find this information intriguing if not downright exhilarating. Here’s the gratitude post…


Gratitude is more than an emotion.  It has become such an important topic to so many that it has become a target of rigorous study in academic departments all over the world.  The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley is one of the leading academic voices on the topic.  They study science-based practices for a meaningful life and seek to build happiness, resilience, connection, and more with research-backed tools.  They’ve identified gratitude as a key concept to their research.  Their work is incredibly cool and you can read more about it at their website:

Gratitude Defined

Robert Emmons, a primary contributor the UC Berkeley lab and world-renowned gratitude researcher has sought to define gratitude.  He posits that it is actually two things.

“First,” he writes, “it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.”

Seoncdly, he explains, “we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. … We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”

Ok, so gratitude affirms there is goodness in the world and that goodness exists outside of ourselves.  Why is that important?

Emmons and other researchers tell us that these two ideas work together to make us more inclined to feel better and be better people.  They have found that gratitude encourages us not only to appreciate the world’s gifts, but to repay them or “pay them forward”.  Sociologist Georg Simmel calls this “the moral memory of mankind.”

So, to sum up, gratitude helps us realize 2 things – 1st, there are good things in the world, 2nd we are not responsible for them.  This has the natural effect of orienting us towards positive thoughts and actions.

Question: Can being grateful actually improve my life?

Answer: Unequivocally, 100%, oh hell yes!!!

Over the past decade, hundreds of studies have documented the social, physical, and psychological benefits of gratitude. The research suggests these benefits are available to most anyone who practices gratitude, even in the midst of adversity, such as elderly people confronting death, women with breast cancer, and people coping with a chronic muscular disease. Here are some of the top research-based reasons for practicing gratitude.


Gratitude brings us happiness: Through research by Robert Emmons, happiness expert Sonja Lyubomirsky, and many other scientists, practicing gratitude has proven to be one of the most reliable methods for increasing happiness and life satisfaction; it also boosts feelings of optimism, joy, pleasure, enthusiasm, and other positive emotions.

On the flip side, gratitude also reduces anxiety and depression.

Gratitude is good for our bodies: Studies by Emmons and his colleague Michael McCullough suggest gratitude strengthens the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces symptoms of illness, and makes us less bothered by aches and pains. It also encourages us to exercise more and take better care of our health.

Grateful people sleep better: They get more hours of sleep each night, spend less time awake before falling asleep, and feel more refreshed upon awakening. If you want to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep.

Gratitude makes us more resilient: It has been found to help people recover from traumatic events, including Vietnam War veterans with PTSD.

Gratitude strengthens relationships: It makes us feel closer and more committed to friends and romantic partners. When partners feel and express gratitude for each other, they each become more satisfied with their relationship. Gratitude may also encourage a more equitable division of labor between partners.

Gratitude promotes forgiveness—even between ex-spouses after a divorce.

Gratitude makes us “pay it forward”: Grateful people are more helpful, altruistic, and compassionate.

Gratitude is good for kids: When 10-19 year olds practice gratitude, they report greater life satisfaction and more positive emotion, and they feel more connected to their community.

Gratitude is good for schools: Studies suggest it makes students feel bett

er about their school; it also makes teachers feel more satisfied and accomplished, and less emotionally exhausted, possibly reducing teacher burnout.

(again, for your reference, because this stuff is so awesome, you can learn more here:

Can we cultivate gratitude?  Or do you have to be naturally inclined to be grateful to realize these benefits?

The benefits of gratitude aren’t only available to people with a naturally grateful disposition. Instead, feeling grateful is a skill we can develop with practice, reaping its rewards along the way. There are a variety of specific, science-based activities for cultivating an attitude of gratitude at this website: Greater Good in Action:

Here’s one that I have found to be particularly easy and effective.  It’s called “3 Good Things”.  You need to do it for 10 minutes every day for at least 1 week.

How It Works:

  • Each day for at least one week, write down three things that went well for you that day, and provide an explanation for why they went well.

  • It is important to create a physical record of your items by writing them down; it is not enough simply to do this exercise in your head.

  • The items can be relatively small in importance (e.g., “my co-worker made the coffee today”) or relatively large (e.g., “I earned a big promotion”).

  • To make this exercise part of your daily routine, some find that writing before bed is helpful.

As you write, follow these instructions:

  1. Give the event a title (e.g., “co-worker complimented my work on a project”)

  2. Write down exactly what happened in as much detail as possible, including what you did or said and, if others were involved, what they did or said.

  3. Include how this event made you feel at the time and how this event made you feel later (including now, as you remember it).

  4. Explain what you think caused this event—why it came to pass.

  5. Use whatever writing style you please, and do not worry about perfect grammar and spelling. Use as much detail as you’d like.

  6. If you find yourself focusing on negative feelings, refocus your mind on the good event and the positive feelings that came with it. This can take effort but gets easier with practice and can make a real difference in how you feel.

Final thought: Based on all this research and my own life experience I’m suggesting you start to think of gratitude as more than just saying “thank you”.  I’m suggesting you make practicing gratitude an intentional part of your daily life.  It’s free, works for all ages and ability levels, and has been proven to produce extraordinary health benefits.  Try it for a week. If you’re not satisfied, let me know.  I’ll be grateful for your feedback.