Why gratitude leads to joy

For centuries, writers and philosophers have referred to gratitude as a virtue—an excellence of character. However, a growing body of research now suggests that giving thanks regularly may not only improve our mood, but may be the key to becoming a happier, more joyful person.

Dr. Brené Brown, Ph. D., is a research professor at the University of Houston who studies vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame. In her research, she found that the most joyful people are those who actively practice gratitude on a daily basis.

“In 12 years of research and 11,000 pieces of data, I did not interview in all that time a person who would describe themselves as joyful or describe themselves as joyous who did not actively practice gratitude,” she said.

The key, she suggests, is practice. The act of writing down what we are grateful for in a journal each day, or sharing what we’re grateful for around the dinner table is an important act that contradicts what she calls ‘scarcity’—the feeling of not enough.

“Scarcity is fueled by our culture, by our media—everywhere we turn there are messages of not enough…And the way out of it is gratitude," she said.

Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of California and the editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology, believes daily gratitude practices make a significant difference to our wellbeing.

“Gratitude journals and other gratitude practices often seem so simple and basic; in our studies, we often have people keep gratitude journals for just three weeks. And yet the results have been overwhelming. We’ve studied more than one thousand people, from ages eight to 80, and found that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits…[including] more joy and pleasure and more optimism and happiness [1],” he said.

It may even contribute to our health, with research supporting an association between consistent gratitude practice and measureable improvements in mood, better heart rhythms and sleep patterns, fewer headaches and colds, increased performance at work and higher states of alertness, determination and energy [2].

So how can you incorporate more gratitude into your day? Clinical psychologist Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D., offers these tips:

  1. Name 10 things as you finish the sentence, "I feel grateful for ....." Whatever you list need not be particularly grandiose. You don't have to thank the cosmos for your existence, but your statements should reflect your true sentiments, not what you think you should feel.
  2. Share your feelings of gratitude with friends and family. Arrange a time to go around the table and discuss things for which each person feels grateful.
  3. Think about the people who have helped you get to this point in your life. Who has helped, loved, and supported you? Send them a wish of thanks, either mentally or by expressing your appreciation directly to them.
  4. Help someone. Extend your gratitude through your actions. Whatever you decide to do, give it away freely with no expectation of acknowledgement or payback. Just do it because it feels right and matters to you.

What do you think? Do you practice gratitude on a daily basis?


[1] Robert Emmons & Richard McCullough. (2003). “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life.” Journal of Personal Social Psychology, 84, pp. 377-389.

[2] Kim Cameron. (2008). Positive Leadership. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. and Robert A. Emmons (2007). Thanks: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.


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