Gratitude and Happiness

Understanding Gratitude and its role in our happiness

Gratitude is an emotional state and attitude towards life that strengthens and enhances our personal well-being and relationships. The idea of gratitude can be found in many of the major religions, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Each religion emphasises gratitude as an important virtue towards a life of happiness and each religion outlines its own practical approaches.

Gratitude is also widely used in psychology and has strong research and therapeutic evidence supporting its effectiveness. Research has linked gratitude with positive well-being and achieving our goals[1]. Gratitude has been incorporated into the clinical setting as a therapeutic approach particularly with individuals experiencing depression.

“Gratitude is an emotional state and attitude towards life that strengthens and enhances our personal well-being and relationships”

What is Gratitude?

Gratitude is a way of being, an outlook on life, an emotion, an attitude, a skill, a moral gesture and a coping mechanism. At its core however, gratitude is an emotional response to a gift1. It’s the appreciation we feel after receiving an act of altruism.

Gratitude presumably has evolutionary benefits for humans, as showing gratitude towards a person for an act of altruism motivates the receiver of the altruistic act to reciprocate1. This kind of exchange between individuals provides a social system that builds connections to assist and help each other. Gratitude does not necessarily have to be received from another person either. We can feel gratitude towards our environment such as the sun coming out today or for physical objects, such as having a roof over our head, or for our own qualities, such as being healthy. Gratitude is a source of strength and an indicator of flourishing that has implications for our personal well-being and our relationships.

 

But how does this act improve our overall well-being? Well, growing evidence suggests that beyond making us feel good, positive emotions such as joy, happiness and contentment also hold social, intellectual, physical and psychological benefits[2]. Numerous studies have shown individuals who report greater feelings of gratitude also report greater feelings of happiness and well-being1. However, can practising gratitude in our everyday life enhance our positive well-being and foster a better outlook on life? Or are those who are more happy in general naturally also more grateful?

Well, studies have shown that when individuals are asked to record a few things in their life they are grateful for on a regular basis report less complaints and greater overall better physical and mental well-being that individuals asked to write down complaints or nothing at all1. Furthermore, extensive evidence has successfully demonstrated that positive mood and well-being can be enhanced through habitual activities of gratitude including “counting one’s blessings” and committing acts of kindness, identifying one’s strengths and working on personal goals2.

So how can you incorporate gratitude into your everyday life? Well, there are a multitude of apps that make it easy to write down one or two things you are grateful for everyday. For example, Gratitude365 is a free app that tracks your daily entries on a calendar that allows you to upload photos and write things down as they come to you. Or maybe you want to try a “Happiness Detox” http://www.mamamia.com.au/wellbeing/happiness-detox/ to help you incorporate gratitude into your life.

 

 

[1] Emmons, R. A., & Crumpler, C. A. (2000). Gratitude as a human strength: Appraising the evidence. Journal of social and clinical psychology, 19(1), 56-69.

[2] Sheldon, K. M. & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006). How to increase and sustain positive emotion: The effects of expressing gratitude and visualizing best possible selves. The Journal of Positive Psychology: Dedicated to furthering research and promoting good practice, 1(2), 73-82.