Gratitude is the affirmation that there are good things in life.
“Gratitude is the recognition that life owes me nothing, and that all the good I have is a gift. It is a response to all that has been given. It’s a way of seeing that alters our gaze. Living gratefully begins with affirming the good and recognizing its sources” (Emmons, 2007)
Gratitude can be subjective because it is simultaneously a feeling, a virtue, a behavior, and a way of being.
Gratitude as discussed in this section and throughout this site refers to the practice of gratitude — the “Attitude of Gratitude”. This section guides one on cultivating gratitude as a fundamental orientation to life, no matter one’s circumstances.
Gratitude and positive psychology researcher Robert Emmons says there are two parts to gratitude:
- Affirmation of goodness in our life.
- Recognizing that the source of goodness is wholly or partially outside oneself.
Gratitude can often be linked with vulnerability because it requires us to admit our dependence on others, which can be challenging for some.
Check out these pages for more on what gratitude is:
Studies reveal that grateful people…
- Experience up to 50% more social support (Algoe & Stanton, 2012).
- Have high empathy and sensitivity and low aggression towards peers (Ziegler, 2011).
- Have a lower risk of depression, generalized anxiety disorder, phobia, nicotine dependence, alcohol dependence, and drug “abuse” or dependence (Wood, et al. 2010).
- Experience lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (Kashdan, et al. 2006).
- Have an overall greater amount of self-esteem (Kashdan, et al. 2006).
- Exercise 1.5 hours a week more on average than the control group (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).
- Experienced improved sleep(Jackowska, et al., 2016).
**Check out the Science of Gratitude page for the breakdown of the research behind these claims and more on the benefits of gratitude.
Could gratitude make your life better?
Experts at Harvard discuss the benefits of gratitude. They conclude that gratitude is an emotion that can be cultivated that supports healthy and prosocial behavior.
“Gratitude will shift you to a higher frequency, and you will attract much better things.”— Rhonda Byrne
Why Study Gratitude??
- Understand the benefits that daily gratitude can bring to your life.
- Discover ways to express gratitude both privately and to other people.
- Train your brain to notice simple things around you—things you can have gratitude for.
- Savor positive feelings when given gifts.
- Build resilience by inhaling the suffering of others and being a positive light.
- Strengthen relationships by expressing genuine gratitude for others.
- Develop an attitude of gratitude and become more in tune with the world around you.
“Gratitude is the wine of the soul. Go on. Get drunk!” — Rumi
The Broaden and Build Theory
Gratitude is part of an upward spiral contributing to positive emotions and experiences, which in turn translate to improved well-being. In 2004, scientist Barbara Fredreickson theorized the Broaden and Build Theory of positive psychology. The theory suggested:
“By broadening an individual’s momentary thought-action repertoire—whether through play, exploration, or similar activities—positive emotions promote discovery of novel and creative actions, ideas, and social bonds, which in turn build that individual’s personal resources; ranging from physical and intellectual resources to social and psychological resources. Importantly, these resources function as reserves that can be drawn on later to improve the odds of successful coping and survival.” – (Fredrickson, 2005)
Gratitude is an effective tool against falling into the hedonic cycle — the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes (Rosenbloom 2010). When we focus on the good things we have, we are less likely to be dissatisfied and more likely to be happy with what we have. Gratitude helps us get off the hedonic cycle and reset.
Ready to jump in?
Hindrances to Gratitude
“Most people have a superhighway to blame and shame, and a goat path to gratitude” – Tony Robbins
The Top 3 Hindrances to Gratitude:
- “I just don’t have anything to be grateful for right now.”
- “If I’m just grateful for everything, then it’s toxic positivity.”
Gratitude can look differently in times of challenge. In some situations it can be easier to cut gratitude off completely than it is to practice it in a genuine way.
- “Who would I thank if I’ve worked for all I have?
- “I feel like people just say ‘thank you’ out of obligation.”
Mindset, background, and upbringing all factor into how we experience gratitude. We may hold the idea that gratitude is just good manners, for example, or only a spiritual thing.
- “I don’t have time for fluff. I have work to do.”
- “If I thank other people for what I have, it makes me look weak.”
- “If I admit I’m grateful for what I have now, how will I ever have more?”
Since gratitude is linked to vulnerability, those who have not fully connected with their vulnerability yet may have a hard time practicing gratitude.
Check out the Illusions of Gratitude page for more on beliefs and alternatives as well as exercises and reflections to help you on your journey.
The 4 Components Model
The gratitude section of this site will focus on the 4 components model of defining and practicing gratitude:
- What we NOTICE in our lives for which we can be grateful.
- How we THINK about why we have been given those things.
- How we FEEL about the things we have been given.
- What we DO to express appreciation in turn.
Check out each page to explore these concepts more:
Quick Fix Guide
*Click for the full size version*
3 Exercises to help jump in right away:
The Iceberg Exercise
Just like the majority of an iceberg can’t be seen above water, most of the things we can be grateful for can go unnoticed. Try this exercise to practice noticing more ordinary moments.
See the full explanation and printable template here.
Think of a gift you have received recently and ponder the following questions/prompts:
- Why does this gift exist in your life?
- Who gave you this gift?
- What was the occasion/reason for them giving the gift?
- What is special about this specific gift that led to them getting it for you?
- Why is this gift important to you?
- What was the giver feeling and needing when they gave the gift?
See the full explanation and printable template here.
Stop. Look. Go (Create Stop Signs)
‘Stop signs’ offer us the opportunity to fit moments of gratitude into our hectic days via ‘scheduled’ time to be present and mindful. Think about some ‘stop signs’ you can create in your home or throughout your daily routine. Get creative and find what works best for you. For Example:
- Sticky note on the bathroom mirror
- Bracelet you wear
- Tape on the light switch
When you see the stop sign, stop and take 60 seconds to think about gratitude and notice something you are grateful for.
For the full explanation of this practice, see the FEEL page.
For more exercises, see the Practice and Exercise page.
David Steindl-Rast: Want to be happy? Be grateful
Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, meditates and writes on “the gentle power” of gratefulness. He says “In daily life, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful. It is gratefulness that makes us happy.”People think being grateful comes from being happy, and actually being happy comes from being grateful.
365 grateful project
Instead of a journal, Hailey took a polaroid each day of something she was grateful for. She realized there were so many small things in her life that she would never have noticed had she not been looking. It improved her relationship with her husband, her children, and herself.
Kiss your brain: The science of gratitude
In this talk, Christina connects her experience of living with brain cancer to her field of study in psychology and explains why tools of gratitude can increase our well-being and what is happening in our brains when we experience and express gratitude.
An Experiment in Gratitude | The Science of Happiness
SoulPancake explains how science has proven that one of the greatest contributors to happiness in life is how much gratitude one shows. The video asks participants to write about a person who influenced them the most, and then call that person and read what they wrote. They found those who were able to call and express their gratitude showed a happiness increase between 4% and 19%.
The experience of gratitude has four parts, yet parents often neglect to teach all four:
What we NOTICE in our lives for which we can be grateful
How we THINK about why we have been given those things
How we FEEL about the things we have been given
What we DO to express appreciation in turn
Parents often focus on what children DO to express appreciation, but skip over the other parts of the experience.
Gratitude | How Right Now
According to the CDC, practicing gratitude may be the best-kept secret to help reduce stress and feel better. Practicing gratitude every day can have a significant benefit to our physical and emotional well-being.
Creating A Culture of Appreciation
The Gottman Institute offers gratitude and appreciation as a way to build a better relationship with your partner. When we express appreciation for a partner we build a positive experience that can be remembered down the line.
The Gratitude Project: How the Science of Thankfulness Can Rewire Our Brains for Resilience, Optimism, and the Greater Good
With essays based on new findings from original research and written by renowned positive psychologists and public figures, this important book delves deeply into the neuroscience and psychology of gratitude, and explores how thankfulness can be developed and applied, both personally and in communities large and small, for the benefit of all.
Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier
Scientifically speaking, regular grateful thinking can increase happiness by as much as 25 percent, and keeping a gratitude journal for as little as three weeks results in better sleep and more energy. But there’s more than science to embrace here: Emmons also bolsters the case for gratitude by weaving in writings of philosophers, novelists, and theologians that illustrate all the benefits grateful living brings.
Kurzgesagt Gratitude Journal
The Team at Kurzgesagt created this journal that is backed by science to help you get into the habit of Gratitude journaling. It contains step-by-step explanations and lots of cute illustrations.
Wake Up Grateful: The Transformative Practice of Taking Nothing for Granted
In Wake Up Grateful, Kristi Nelson, executive director of A Network for Grateful Living, unlocks the path to recognizing abundance in every moment, no matter the moment. With questions for reflection, daily exercises, and perspective prompts, Nelson introduces readers to the benefits of a daily gratitude practice.
Thanks A Thousand: A Gratitude Journey (TED Books)
A.J. Jacobs decided to thank every single person involved in producing his morning cup of coffee. The resulting journey takes him across the globe, transforms his life, and reveals secrets about how gratitude can make us all happier, more generous, and more connected.
The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life
Getting advice at every turn from psychologists, academics, doctors, and philosophers, Kaplan brings readers on a smart and witty journey to discover the value of appreciating what you have.
There is an entire page for Gratitude Resources — check it out!
- Algoe, S. B., & Stanton, A. L. (2012). Gratitude when it is needed most: Social functions of gratitude in women with metastatic breast cancer. Emotion, 12(1), 163–168. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0024024
- Emmons, R. A. (2007). Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier (Annotated edition). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
- Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377–389. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.117
- Fredrickson, B. L. (2005). The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. The Science of Well-Being, 216–239. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198567523.003.0008
- Jackowska, M., Brown, J., Ronaldson, A., & Steptoe, A. (2016). The impact of a brief gratitude intervention on subjective well-being, biology and sleep. Journal of Health Psychology, 21(10), 2207–2217. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105315572455
- Kashdan, T. B., Uswatte, G., & Julian, T. (2006). Gratitude and hedonic and eudaimonic well-being in Vietnam War veterans. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 44(2), 177–199. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2005.01.005
- Rosenbloom, Stephanie (August 7, 2010). “But Will It Make You Happy?”. The New York Times. Retrieved August 16, 2010.
- Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. A. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(7), 890–905. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2010.03.005
- Ziegler, E. H. (2011, October 20). Gratitude as an Antidote to Aggression. University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences — Psychology. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from https://psychology.as.uky.edu/gratitude-antidote-aggression#:~:text=%22More%20empathic%20people%20are%20less,unknown%20whether%20gratitude%20reduced%20aggression.