Thinking about all you have to appreciate can boost your happiness and your overall sense of well-being, according to psychologists. (It helps explain why Thanksgiving scores so high among American holidays. It's topped only by Christmas, according to one recent poll.)

The Effects of Gratitude Last Longer Than You Think

Feeling and expressing gratitude can make you happy in the moment—just think back to the joy you felt the last time a friend helped you out or your partner cooked a gourmet dinner—and a growing mound of evidence shows that giving thanks can also have a lasting effect on your mood. One study from the University of Pennsylvania found that people who wrote and delivered a heartfelt thank-you letter actually felt happier for a full month after, and the same researchers discovered that writing down three positive events each day for a week kept happiness levels high for up to six months.

Tools for Thankfulness

So how can you cultivate a growing sense of gratitude—and its positive side-benefits—on your own? It turns out that the tools used by psychologists in research studies—namely a gratitude journal and some thank-you notes—are some of the best ones for boosting gratitude both in and out of the lab. By writing down positive things that happen to you and actively acknowledging those who have helped you, you become better at recognizing the good in your life, which naturally helps you feel more grateful and thankful more often. You can also find dozens of fun gratitude activities on Happify!

What Grateful People Have in Common

Of course, the actual goal isn't to have a notebook full of your declarations of gratitude, but rather to make gratitude a default feeling. According to researchers at Eastern Washington University, there are four primary characteristics of grateful people, and these are the ones that thank-you notes and a gratitude journal can help tap, strengthen, and invigorate. People who experience the most gratitude (and therefore the positive effects) tend to:

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

Train Your Brain for Gratitude

Whether or not these attitudes come to you naturally, paying attention to life's positives can train you to see more and more of them, which will help you learn to be more grateful. You might feel blessed that good weather allowed you to get out for an afternoon run, that a stranger lent a helping hand, that you made it to the bus on time, or that your kids offered to do the dishes. Acknowledging these things—on paper, with words, through Happify, or even in your thoughts—will help you cultivate an attitude of gratitude—and with it, a boost in happiness that will last year-round.

Sign up for Happify for activities and games that help you cultivate gratitude every day.

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