Why Is Gratitude More Important Than You Think

What is gratitude? Is it just saying “Thanks” or “I owe you one” to someone who did something for us?

Actually, it’s more. UC Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons, the father of gratitude research, says gratitude needs us to fulfill two conditions:

  1. Affirmation: that we have achieved a positive outcome, and
  2. Recognition: that the good outcome came from a source outside of ourselves.

So, being truly grateful means that we affirm the good in our life and also recognize the work of others in making it happen.

The word gratitude comes from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness.

But why is gratitude important in life?

Why is gratitude important?
Gratitude increases our long-term happiness. (Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash)

Why Is Gratitude Important In Life?

Gratitude is important as it makes our lives better and happier. It helps us see the good things in our lives and realize that some of those good things come from others. It makes us feel more satisfied with our life and more willing to help others, as well as reduces depression and protects against self-harm.

The importance of gratitude has been recognized for centuries.

It is one of the core components of most religions, and most of them preach the spiritual benefits of gratitude and why is gratitude important to God.

Gratitude is also a highly regarded human value in many cultures.

Expressing gratitude does not cost us money, yet it can have a positive impact on how we see life and handle challenges.

Gratitude is both a trait and a state (Boggiss & Consedine, 2020):

  • As a trait or quality, it is the tendency to notice and value the world in a positive light.
  • As a mental state, it is having those moments when we feel thankful and appreciative.

The enemy of gratitude is taking things and people for granted.

Being Grateful Is Good For Your Mind (Gratitude & Mental Health)

Gratitude has been shown to be an effective solution to some unresolved mental health issues.

  • Research showed gratitude can significantly cut back depression in young adults by increasing self-esteem and psychological well-being (Lin, C. Gratitude and depression in young adults, 2015).
  • This research found gratitude buffers the effect of two suicide risk factors: hopelessness and depressive symptoms. The researchers said gratitude may act as a barrier between suicidal ideas and hopelessness and depression (Kleiman & Adams, Grateful individuals are not suicidal. 2013).
  • This research found gratitude along with grit acted in synergy to buffer suicide by increasing meaning in life. They found that persons with high levels of gratitude and grit at baseline had the greatest reduction in suicidal ideation over time, with gratitude emerging as the more important factor in reducing suicidal thoughts (Kleiman, Adams, & Kashdan, Gratitude and grit indirectly reduce risk of suicidal ideations by enhancing meaning in life, 2013).
  • Positive psychology researchers found that a single act of thoughtful gratitude resulted in an immediate 10% increase in happiness and a 35% reduction in depressive symptoms. The positive benefits faded within three to six months, showing that gratitude is an act that must be repeated often (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions, 2005).
Gratitude Benefits
Daily gratitude practice lowers stress and raises joy.

Saying “Thank You” Can Benefit Your Body (Gratitude & Physical Health)

Gratitude practice has been consistently shown to improve psychological well-being, but is it beneficial for your physical health?

Greater gratitude has been linked to better sleep, less fatigue, less negative mood, higher self-efficacy, and lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers in cardiac patients (Mills & Redwine, 2015).

  • Gratitude can lower blood pressure (Jackowska & Brown, 2016) and help control blood sugar in diabetes patients (Schache & Hofman, 2019).
  • It can help control asthma symptoms (Cook & Woessner, 2018) and reduce workplace absence due to illness (Kaplan & Bradley-Geist, 2014).
  • A gratitude practice can also increase your exercise frequency, thus helping you stay fit (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).
  • It can improve your sleep quality and help you feel more refreshed in the morning (Jackowska, Brown, Ronaldson, & Steptoe, 2016).
  • Grateful women who offered supportive care to others had lower levels of interleukin-6 (a body protein linked to chronic diseases of aging, like diabetes). It suggests that gratitude, via increased supportiveness, may improve immune function (Moieni, Irwin, & Haltom, 2019).

Gratitude Can Improve Your Overall Happiness (Gratitude & Wellbeing)

Our overall well-being depends on how happy we are in the present, how satisfied we feel about our lived life, and how optimistic we are about our future. Gratitude touches all of them.

Being grateful for the wonderful things in our lives makes us happier in the present, feel good about joyful memories from the past, and feel more satisfied with our lives in general.

In terms of time, you may feel gratitude in these 3 ways:

  • Grateful for the past: recall positive memories and feel thankful for the things or persons involved.
  • Grateful for the present: appreciate every good thing and good person present in your life today.
  • Grateful for the future: keep a hopeful and optimistic outlook and feel thankful for a brighter future.

Positive psychologists show that gratitude not only allows us to have more positive emotions but also keeps the negative ones away.

It helps us savor our good experiences, deal better with adversity, and build strong relationships.

Robert Emmons, the world’s leading gratitude researcher, says those who practice grateful thinking “reap emotional, physical, and interpersonal benefits.”

Gratitude blocks toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret and depression, which can destroy our happiness. It’s impossible to feel envious and grateful at the same time.

— Robert Emmons, Leading Gratitude Researcher
The Power of Gratitude | Lilly Mbinglo | TEDxAliefStudio
The Power of Gratitude – Lilly Mbinglo (TEDx)

More From Gratitude Research: How Gratitude Is Good For Us

In a set of four studies, researchers McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang found that gratitude is linked to feeling less negative and more positive emotions.

This means that if you are grateful on a daily basis, you are more likely to feel happier, more alert, and more energetic. In addition, you will feel fewer strong negative emotions like resentment, bitterness, and greed.

  • Feeling and expressing gratitude can boost your happiness and overall sense of well-being, as psychologists say (McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang, 2002).
  • Gratitude has been judged as a motivating and energizing emotion (Emmons & Mishra, 2011).
  • Gratitude lets people have more feelings of connectedness and greater perceived social support (Wood, Maltby, Gillett, Linley, & Joseph, 2008).
  • Gratitude is linked with experiencing more daily positive emotions and fewer negative emotions (Kashdan, Uswatte, & Julian, 2006).
  • Gratitude practice leads to a lowering of stress (Wood et al., 2008), and fewer depressive symptoms (Lambert, Fincham, & Stillman, 2012).
  • Gratitude can cause people to believe that they deserve positive results for themselves and are capable of achieving them (Lambert, Graham, Fincham, & Stillman, 2009).
  • Research finds that gratitude prompts people to make progress toward their goals (Emmons & Mishra, 2011).
  • According to the find-remind-and-bind theory, gratitude causes people to recognize or acknowledge relationships with others, inspiring them to engage in behaviors that bring them closer together (Algoe, 2012).
  • Psychologists confirm gratitude is a great way to increase our happiness, and better our mood, health, and relationships.
  • Grateful contemplation can be used to enhance long-term well-being. Gratitude and Well-Being: Who Benefits the Most from a Gratitude Intervention? (Rash & Matsuba, 2011).

According to researchers at Eastern Washington University, the people who are grateful have these four characteristics:

  • Feel a sense of abundance in their lives
  • Recognize and enjoy life’s small pleasures
  • Appreciate the contributions of others to their well-being
  • Acknowledge the importance of experiencing and expressing gratitude

People who are generally grateful also report being less narcissistic.

How many types of gratitude are there?

According to researchers, there are two types of gratitude:
1. Benefit-triggered gratitude: felt as a response to an action by another person (“I am grateful that my friend helped me out of this difficult situation.”)
2. General gratitude: an overall appreciation or thankfulness for important and meaningful things in one’s life (“I am grateful for my family.”)

How does gratitude differ from indebtedness?

Here’s how gratitude differs from a feeling of indebtedness (feeling of being in debt):
• A feeling of indebtedness arises when a person believes they are under an obligation to repay the act of help they received.
• Gratitude doesn’t involve any such obligations and it does imply feeling indebted.
• Indebtedness can cause the recipient to avoid the person who helped them.
• Whereas a feeling of gratitude can encourage the recipient to seek out and strengthen their relationship with their benefactor.

Final Words

People who practice gratitude daily are more positive and optimistic, are more resilient, and also have more positive emotions than others.

Try this gratitude exercise: “Think of someone in your life who you feel like you have never fully or properly thanked for something meaningful or important that they did for you. Thank them in your mind now.”

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How to get an Attitude of Gratitude this year?

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).

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