How Being Grateful Increases Happiness

Woman seated on the ground with her arms outstretched to the sky.

How does cultivating gratitude make you happier and improve emotional wellness?

When we’re feeling down or upset, having someone tell us to “cheer up” or “remember what you have to be grateful for” can feel condescending, or that they’re missing the point. However, being grateful is not about ignoring or diminishing the seriousness of our problems. It’s about putting problems in perspective within the entirety of our lives.

Problems can easily overwhelm us if they’re all we think about. But identifying the things to be grateful for can give our concerns a reality check and can offer us reason to hope in the face of any difficulty. In fact, there have been many scientific studies on the psychological benefits of gratitude and on the impact these benefits can have on our health and happiness.

Here are five ways being grateful can help improve your life.

1. Reduce anxiety.

We are what we think. The more we focus on our anxieties, the more likely they are to absorb all our mental and emotional energy. If all we think about are the things that are going wrong, then it can feel as though this is all there is. Conversely, gratitude helps shift our focus, allowing the good things in our life to take up a greater share of our mental energy.

Pro-Tip: When you find yourself thinking negatively, stop and acknowledge something that you are grateful for.

2. Grow in empathy.

Gratitude also expands our vision and increases our capacity. Gratitude enables us to see MORE than just our concerns, we also see the world around us. When we are truly thankful for what we have and who we are, we are less likely to be envious of others. We are also more likely to recognize difficulty in other’s lives, and experience the compassion and empathy that compels us to action.

3. Improve your sleep.

How many of us have had the experience of lying awake at night, our minds buzzing with myriads of anxieties. During the day, we somehow managed to repress these long-term fears, and short-term burdens as we handled our most pressing needs. But the moment our heads hit the pillow, those deeper worries emerge.

However, studies have shown that 15 minutes of gratitude journaling in the evening can improve sleep quality. Even writing down a short list of 3–5 things you’re thankful for can help you sleep longer and more deeply.

Pro-Tip: Start a gratitude journal.

4. Grow your relationships.

Gratitude isn’t just about the things we have—it’s also about the people in our lives. When we acknowledge others, it helps strengthen our relationships. Taking a moment to tell your coworker how much you appreciate their help, or writing a friend a letter to thank them for their support, not only helps you feel better, it also gives a boost to those around you.

 Pro-Tip: Say “thank you” to the people in your life, even if it’s something in the past that you are grateful for.

5. Build mental resilience.

As we said earlier, gratitude isn’t about putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. On the contrary: it’s about building strength and personal wellness. Gratitude has a profound effect on our psychological health, and can even help us cope with traumatizing life events. A study of Vietnam veterans from 2006 found that those who practiced daily gratitude had higher levels of well-being and suffered less from the effects of PTSD. Gratitude can also help to ward off depression.

Thankfulness isn’t just for Thanksgiving.

Every year, Thanksgiving reminds us to take a moment to be grateful for the good things we have. But for our own well-being, we shouldn’t limit gratitude to just Thanksgiving Day. By turning gratitude into an intentional mindset, we can improve our happiness, fortify our health, and build stronger relationships with those around us.

It isn’t easy to refocus your mind on gratitude. In fact, as you begin to practice daily gratitude it may require a heroic effort of will not to allow the bad things to keep you trapped in negativity. That’s why we’re here not only to provide encouragement, but to be at your side as you move forward. ArborWoman has a team of caring, licensed professionals ready to come alongside as you process your concerns. We are each MORE than our circumstances, and while our experiences may have shaped us – they do not have to be what defines us. Now that is something to be thankful for!

Iris is the director of ArborWoman.