The Science of Giving Thanks

April 1, 2021
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The Gift of Gratitude

The science (and health benefits) of giving thanks

“If we have learned one thing from the science of gratitude … [it] is that there is no resilience without gratitude. It’s impossible. Gratitude is absolutely indispensable for growing an unshakable core of calm, strength, and happiness.”

Prof. Robert Emmons, PhD, of University of California, Davis — a research leader in the study of gratitude. He says the physical benefits of "the practice of gratitude" incl. lower blood pressure and a better-functioning immune system.

Studying Gratitude

  • Scientists have studied the benefits of gratitude for those who give thanks, those who receive thanks, and even those who *observe* thanks.
  • Wide-ranging research shows gratitude can improve our overall well-being, from mind to body.
  • UC Berkeley’s “Greater Good Science Center” has a special project dedicated specifically to gratitude research.

What Studies Say:

  • Those who wrote gratitude lists for 2 weeks (5 items daily) reported increases in “happiness and life satisfaction” & decreases in depression.
  • Those in therapy who wrote letters “expressing gratitude to others” reported improved mental health vs. those journaling about stressful events.
  • Those expressing gratitude showed higher brain activity in an area linked to “social bonding & stress relief.”
“We found that more gratitude in these patients was associated with better mood, better sleep, less fatigue and lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers related to cardiac health.”

Prof. Paul Mills, PhD, University of California, San Diego studied patients with asymptomatic heart failure. Those patients who scored higher in gratitude *also* scored higher in mood, sleep and heart health; "a more grateful heart is indeed a more healthy heart."

Something To Consider

  • One recent study used “thank you” notes, comparing how the writer felt about expressing “thanks” to how the receiver felt receiving it.
  • “Thank you” card writers “overestimated how awkward recipients would feel and underestimated how positive recipients would feel.”
  • Conclusion: Our biases may keep us from the benefits of sharing gratitude.

We highlighted several points of research and linked to them on our source page. In many cases, scientists point out the challenges to studying and measuring gratitude (how can you measure your true gratefulness?) but the conclusions they reach are sure to spark conversation — or even a little "thanks."

Here’s some of the studies we mention:

Read the study on gratitude lists: Positive Psychology and Gratitude Interventions: A Randomized Clinical Trial CLICK

How the brain responds to gratitude.

Does gratitude writing improve the mental health of psychotherapy clients? Evidence from a randomized controlled trial

A Grateful Heart

THANK YOU on Overestimating/underestimating how our thanks is received

by Jenna Lee,