Only 1 in 3 Americans reports being "very happy,"1 and nearly 1 in 4 experience no life enjoyment at all.2 Fortunately, there's hope. Small changes in perspective and behavior can add up over time, and practicing gratitude is at the top of the list of strategies known to boost happiness and life satisfaction.
If your happiness could use a pick-me-up, commit to cultivating an attitude of gratitude every day. Not only will it pave the way to life satisfaction, but research also confirms it benefits both sanity and physical health. Enhancing your health and well-being, then, may be as simple as taking the time each day to reflect on what you're thankful for.
Gratitude Leads to Cascade of Positive Psychological Effects
It also boosts your sense of pleasure in general. This effect has been traced back to gratitude's ability to stimulate your hypothalamus (a brain area involved in the regulation of stress) and ventral tegmental area (part of your brain's "reward circuitry," an area that produces pleasurable feelings).5
"This experiment … provided evidence that perceptions of interpersonal warmth (e.g., friendliness, thoughtfulness) serve as the mechanism via which gratitude expressions facilitate affiliation.
Insofar as gratitude expressions signaled interpersonal warmth of the expresser, they prompted investment in the burgeoning social bond. As such, these findings provide the first empirical evidence regarding 1 of the 3 central premises of the find-remind-and-bind theory of gratitude in the context of novel relationships."
The ability to feel gratitude for little everyday things can also boost your willpower, improve your impulse control and make you a more patient person, all of which allow you to make more sensible decisions — including decisions concerning your health and finances.7 Interestingly, gratitude is associated with increased happiness via a neural link to generosity.
Gratitude is actually a form of generosity, because it involves offering or extending "something" to another person, even if it's only a verbal affirmation of thanks. Generosity, in turn, is neutrally linked to happiness. In other words, your brain is actually wired to boost your happiness when you commit acts of generosity, even when no money is involved.8,9
Gratitude Is a Powerful Antidepressant
Considering its ability to boost happiness and social connectivity, it's no surprise gratitude has been shown to combat depression.10 Experiments have demonstrated that getting in the habit of listing three things you're grateful for each day results in considerable improvements in depression, sometimes in as little as two weeks.
There's even biochemical support for the antidepressive effects of gratitude. Gratitude actually triggers the release of antidepressant and mood-regulating chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and oxytocin, while inhibiting the stress chemical cortisol.11 These neurochemical effects are also why gratitude has been linked to reduced stress.12 Yet another reason is because it improves emotional resiliency.13
Lastly, gratitude has been shown to improve work performance. In one study, managers who expressed gratitude saw a 50 percent increase in the employees' performance. Considering more than half of all American workers say they're frustrated at or by work,14it's quite clear there's a lot of room for improvement here, and gratitude could go a long way toward fostering a healthier work environment for all parties.