Overview of Gratitude


This is a  presentation designed to offer a general introduction to the practice of gratitude and its many nuances. Each segment will offer you, the reader, a description of a type of Gratitude. Within each description, you will find tips for your practice, articles to further your reading, videos, songs, and more! For the full experience of this presentation, consider it a Spectrum of Gratitude: begin here with the Overview, then work your way from Introduction to the Feeling, to Gratitude and Others, to Attitude of Gratitude and, finally, Gratitude as a Way of Being.

Just below, and at the bottom of every page within, is the table of contents for the whole section on Gratitude. You can always click around there and navigate to where you’d like to learn.

Happy reading : )

Now that you’re in the mood…. Have a look at these short videos and stories:

My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music)

“Brighten the Corner Where You Are.” (and a few more, if you so choose)

Glimpses of Gratitude – A TED talk by Louie Schwartzberg (total length = 9:47)

Couple Moves Into Van To Make Shelter Dogs Happy | The Dodo

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” Cicero

“Truly appreciate those around you, and you’ll soon find many others around you. Truly appreciate life, and you’ll find that you have more of it.” —Ralph Marston

“The test of all happiness is gratitude.” G. K. Chesterton

Definitions of “Gratitude”

  1. Recognition that “goodness” comes from somewhere outside of ourselves, and the appreciation of a gift offered to the giver.   [1]
  2. Inspiration to reach out and reciprocate kindness.
  3. The affirmation that there are good things in life and that life is, overall and as a whole, good.
  4. A fundamental life orientation: Feeling grateful/thankful vs. Being a grateful person.

A purpose of this presentation is not to illustrate Gratitude as a spectrum where each piece on gratitude leads to the next. Ultimately, how you choose to experience gratitude is up to you and is likely different in each circumstance. The suggested way to read and interact with these presented pieces is to begin with Momentary Gratitude, continue with Gratitude and Others, follow with Forming an ‘Attitude of Gratitude’, and end (or begin ; ) with Gratitude as a Way of Being.

Gratitude in a Nutshell

The feeling of gratitude has depth, nuances, and complexities that are specific to the moment and the individual. Gratitude has been appreciated for its warm and fuzzy reaction in the body long before humans began delving into a greater understanding of its benefits. The scientific knowledge of the health (physical, emotional, relationship, etc) benefits of gratitude is becoming more and more a topic of significance. “Gratitude is literally one of the few things that can measurably change people’s’ lives,” says Robert Emmoms, author of Thanks! Though this might be a bit of an overstatement, it has become clear through the wave of research and literature, that feeling and experiencing gratitude leads to more success in your own life as well as having a positive effect on those around you.

Scientifically Speaking…

Robert Trivers, who introduced the theory of ‘reciprocal altruism’ in 1971, suggests that gratitude is the emotion that regulates our response to altruistic acts by others (and motivates our response in kind). Essentially, by offering appreciation, care, acts of service to others, and more, we not only invite similar acts into our lives which have a positive impact of our very existence and from so, we experience a physical response in our bodies. The practice of gratitude has the potential to positively alter many aspects of your life including, and not limited to, your physical health (see below), your emotional well-being, to strengthen your relationships, and to generally uplift your outlook on life. Gratitude is a cycle: by taking the time to develop a gratitude practice of your own, you will invite gratitude into your life and find more to be grateful for, and so on.

Evolution of Gratitude This article discusses the origins of gratitude in animals in the form of reciprocity and the effect this non-verbal form of gratitude has had on humans through evolution.
What Can the Brain Reveal about Gratitude? This neuroscientist aims to answer the question: “Can our brain activity reveal anything about how gratitude achieves its significant benefits?” in order to understand the mind-body connection of experiencing gratitude.

Effects on Health

As gratitude and its effects have come to the forefront of people’s minds, multitudes of research has come out testing the effects of practicing gratitude on the brain, and whether it has any long lasting effects on overall mental attitude and physical health. For example, taking time to write down what you are grateful for in a journal, “…indicates that simply expressing gratitude may have lasting effects on the brain…. This finding suggests that practicing gratitude may help train the brain to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude down the line, and this could contribute to improved mental health over time.” Studies have shown that practicing some form of gratitude (whether it be writing in a journal or counting your blessings as you fall asleep) on a daily or weekly basis has positive effects on:  

  • heart health
  • Self-confidence
  • sleep and fatigue
  • Depression
  • helping to slow inflammation in the body.

Incorporating a practice and mindset of gratitude into your life also helps to strengthen your relationships with family, friends, and significant others.

Article     Summary         Actionable Steps

How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain This articles discusses the findings of an experiment in which they asked participants to write gratitude letters and the effects on their mental health. Also links to a few studies done by the Greater Good on the benefits of Gratitude. Try it! Write a gratitude letter or journal. Also check on the section on Appreciation (Other Oriented) for some additional information and tips. Remember, it takes time. So be patient and kind with yourself : )
Can Gratitude Help You Recover from a Heart Attack? This articles describes the work of Dr. () who introduces the positive physiological effects of practicing and experiencing gratitude on the patients who are recovering from heart attacks or some form of heart disease. Take some time to discover how the practice of Gratitude can support your mental and physical health. There is also a link to a Gratitude Letter Writing exercise.
A Key to Happiness – Counting Your Blessings This article discusses Sonja Lyubomirsky’s journey and research into the science of long-term happiness and the key role of Gratitude. Check out Dr. Lyubomirsky’s book, The How of Happiness, for further research, tips, and reading.  
Can Gratitude be Good for Your Heart? Discusses the scientific study of ‘positive traits’ (gratitude, awe, and compassion) on heart health. Take the time to notice the good in others and in your life, too. As this article mentions, you may easily see the bad still, however, you will also learn to recognize the good just as easily.

Gratitude and Happiness

From my readings and viewings, scholars, scientists, and researchers are sure that these two ‘ideas’ are interwoven and that one cannot exist without the other. However, the question has then arisen, are they actually mutually dependent? It would seem that the long-standing thought process has been that gratitude comes from happiness. The formula being: I am happy, therefore I have things to be grateful for. If y=gratitude and x= happiness, then it would appear that we cannot be grateful without having something to be happy about.

However, further research into the scientific and metaphysical world is beginning to think differently. Brother David and Brene Brown will offer that Gratitude is a way of being, a continued practice in which we can stop and see things (people, places, unicorns, the wind in the trees, the whiskers of a cat, the sound of our heartbeat) to be grateful for in every moment. Therefore, they would offer that when we are able to find gratitude in any situation, we will find happiness. (Further discussion in the Gratitude as a Way of Being section)

Any way you look at it, the conclusions are the same: gratitude is a practice.


Gratitude Playlist
In My Life – The Beatles
Thank You – Led Zeppelin
Here Today – Lennon and McCartney
Your Song – Elton John
Peaceful Easy Feeling – The Eagles
I Thank You – ZZ Top
Kind and Generous – Natalie Merchant
Because You Loved Me – Celine Dion
Thank You for Being a Friend – Andrew Gol
Wind Beneath My Wings – Bette Midler
What a Wonderful World


The Science of Happiness, Episode 7: How Gratitude Benefits Your Brain

Further Reading and Watching!

Video: 4 Thoughts About Gratitude That Could Change Your Life

What Happens When Older Adults take a Class on Gratitude? This article outlines the discoveries made by a group of older adults taking a class on Gratitude. No matter your age or situation in life, you have the ability to find inner happiness through the practice of Gratitude.
How Gratitude Motivates Us to Become Better People This articles addresses the question, “does gratitude make you complacent?’ The article argues for the opposite, that gratitude energizes and inspires. Consider gratitude as fuel for furthering your happiness, the happiness of those around you,
Three Emotions that Can Help You Succeed at Your Goals In this article, the author describes the long terms benefits of cultivating gratitude, compassion, and pride, in comparison to opting for short term gratification. Check out Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride by David DeSteno for further reading and practice.
How Gratitude Can Help You Through Hard Times In this article, Robert Emmons, discusses the importance of maintaining a gratitude practice during the challenging times of our lives. The key being to distinguish feeling grateful and being grateful. Check out the works of Robert Emmons as well as the section of this presentation called Gratitude as a Way of Being.
7 Ways to Foster Gratitude in Kids This article discusses the correlation of gratitude with well-being of children and teens and offers 7 techniques for parents and role models to model for children. Use the tips in the this and the article below to create some Gratitude themed discussions with your children, family, and/or friends!
How to Help Gratitude Grow in Your Kids This article discusses three type of gratitude exhibited by children among several countries: Connective, concrete, and verbal gratitude. It offers parents tips on how to teach their children to be grateful people through their words, actions, and intentions. Even more  : )


Next Up…

Let’s learn deeply about Gratitude.