The Psychological Power of Gratitude

If you’re feeling thankful this Thanksgiving, you should be thankful that you’re feeling thankful. Being able to count your blessings is itself a blessing.

That’s because psychology research has shown repeatedly that gratitude is associated with a range of good mental health outcomes. Here are some examples.

1. Gratitude Exercises and Psychological Well-Being

Because of the link between gratitude and happiness, psychologists sometimes use “gratitude interventions” as a tool for improving mental health. These involve asking people to reflect on, or often write about, things they’re grateful for.

A 2016 meta-analysis found that gratitude interventions tend to make people … more grateful. OK, no surprise there. More interestingly, though, the meta-analysis also found evidence that gratitude interventions improve people’s overall psychological well-being.

One example of a gratitude intervention would be writing people in your life you feel gratitude toward and expressing your thankfulness to them. A study looking at this technique found that it improved the mental health of therapy patients. This intervention also appeared to be more effective than asking people to write about their deepest thoughts fears having to do with stressful experiences, possibly because the gratitude writing exercise encouraged people to think more positively and use more positive words.

To tell you the truth, I’m not a big fan of the term “gratitude intervention” – it makes it sound like you were so ungrateful that someone actually had to intervene! Wording aside, though, the research suggests that we can all potentially benefit by taking a moment to deliberately bring more gratitude into our lives.

2. Expressing Gratitude and Making Friends

Feeling gratitude is good for your mental health. Expressing gratitude might be even better.

A study published in the journal Emotion showed that when someone expressed gratitude, a stranger was more likely to evaluate them as friendly, thoughtful and warm. Unsurprisingly, this also made the stranger more likely to to share their contact information than if the person didn’t express thankfulness.

3. Gratitude and Emotional Intelligence

People with higher emotional intelligence tend to experience higher subjective well-being – that is, they see themselves as happier and more satisfied with their lives. It turns out that gratitude might partly explain this connection between emotional intelligence and subjective well-being.

One study published a year ago found that gratitude partly accounted for the correlation between emotional intelligence and subjective well-being. In other words, emotional intelligence may make people more prone to feeling gratitude, which in turn raises their subjective well-being.

Of course, just because feeling grateful is associated with a variety of psychological advantages doesn’t mean it’s easy. If you’re still not feeling the Thanksgiving spirit, you might want to check out my post from last November, Why You’re Ungrateful.

Image: Flickr/Andrew