You fall in the hallway and a kid you barely know rushes over to help. You come home after a long day to find your dad prepared your favorite meal. Just before lunch in social studies class, you learn about places where people don’t have clean water or enough food.
What do these have in common? They’re likely to make you feel gratitude.
What Is Gratitude?
Gratitude is one of many positive emotions. It’s about focusing on what’s good in our lives and being thankful for the things we have.
Gratitude is pausing to notice and appreciate the things that we often take for granted, like having a place to live, food, clean water, friends, family, even computer access. It’s taking a moment to reflect on how fortunate we are when something good happens — whether it’s a small thing or a big thing.
We can use lots of words to describe feelings of gratitude: We might say we feel thankful, lucky, fortunate, humbled, or blessed.
Why Gratitude Matters
Gratitude doesn’t just feel good. Making a habit of gratitude can also be good for us. Like other positive emotions, feeling grateful on a regular basis can have a big effect on our lives. Brain research shows that positive emotions are good for our bodies, minds, and brains.
- Positive emotions open us up to see more possibilities and take in more information. They boost our ability to develop skills, learn, and make good decisions.
- Positive emotions balance out negative emotions. People who often feel grateful and appreciative are happier, less stressed, and less depressed. Gratitude is like a U-turn on complaining or thinking about what we don’t have.
- One positive emotion often leads to another. When we feel grateful, we might also feel happy, calm, joyful, or glad.
- Gratitude can lead to positive actions. When we feel grateful for someone’s kindness toward us, we may be more likely to do a kindness in return. Your gratitude also can have a positive effect on someone else’s actions. Thanking people can make it more likely they’ll do a kindness again.
- Gratitude helps us build better relationships. When we feel and express heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to people in our lives, it creates loving bonds, builds trust, and helps you feel closer.
When we make it a habit to feel grateful and appreciative, it increases our awareness of good things as they happen. That mindset of gratitude has positive effects on our mood.
Build a Gratitude Habit
Sometimes, feelings of gratitude happen spontaneously. But we also can create feelings of gratitude by deliberately counting our blessings.
You can build a habit of counting blessings just by paying attention each day to things you’re glad to have in your life. Slow down and notice what’s around you. For example: “Wow, the sky is beautiful today! What an incredible world we live in,” or, “There’s Sara! It was so nice of her to help me yesterday.”
Noticing the things you’re grateful for is just the first step in building a gratitude habit, but you can try other things too, like taking the time to thank people or pausing to appreciate a star-filled sky. Start now. What’s good about this moment?
Reviewed by: D’Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: November 2013