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Positive Emotions and Health: Zooming in on Gratitude

Updated: Dec 19, 2022

By Barbara Storch, MA


Positive psychology is a field of psychology that researches how positive experiences, emotions, traits, and strengths influence mental health, physical health, and quality of life. This article will focus on gratitude, and what research has shown about the relationship between gratitude and health. The article will end with some practices to cultivate gratitude in your own life.

What is Gratitude?

First things first – what is gratitude? The scientific literature sees gratitude as both a trait (an individual characteristic) and a state (an individual process). Gratitude is defined as one's ability to notice and appreciate the good, positive, or beneficial as well as the process of seeing external benefits and outcomes of situations. In other words, gratitude is complex. That’s something that’s important to keep in mind - when we talk about “gratitude”, it’s actually a big complex concept that’s hard to pinpoint scientifically.


Gratitude and Health: Physical and Mental

There have been many research studies examining gratitude and how it relates to both physical and mental health.


A recent review paper published in 2020 set out to synthesize the literature on gratitude and physical and mental health. This review included 64 scientific articles, each of which tested out the impact of gratitude over time, most often including some sort of intervention aimed to enhance gratitude. The review found that gratitude can positively affect some health markers, including one’s specific to cardiovascular health, inflammation, and sleep. However, it is not clear if the results are specifically from the aspects of gratitude the interventions were targeting, or something else.


Another recent review paper looking at gratitude interventions and physical health outcomes found a link between gratitude and sleep, with the rest of the findings indicating a mixed picture. Overall, the results are inconclusive for the effect of gratitude on physical health, with some positive findings that encourage continuing to study this relationship.


With regards to mental health, Jans-Benken and colleagues also found that gratitude is associated with fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression, and may be associated with improved psychological well-being, emotional well-being, and maintenance of social relationships. However, it’s unclear whether interventions that teach or aim to enhance gratitude have an effect on mental health symptoms. Again, there are some mixed results, with some positive findings that encourage continued examination of gratitude’s effect on mental health.


Ways to Increase Your Gratitude Today Although the literature findings are mixed, results do seem to overall indicate some promise for gratitude as a construct that is associated with positive mental and physical health outcomes.

If you’re wondering how to try and cultivate gratitude in your life, here are some practices to try:

Find/speak/write three things you are grateful for per day

  • There are multiple ways to do this. At the start of each day, you can think of three things you are grateful for at that moment. These can range from specific to general – nothing is too small or too big to be grateful for.

  • You can also make a point to try and notice three things throughout your day, or at the end of the day you can look back and reflect on three things to be grateful for.

Keep a gratitude journal

  • This is very similar to the above prompt, but a little more unstructured. You could write once per day, or once per week. Having a written record of what you’re grateful for can also be nice for reflection and looking back on grateful moments from the past.

Reflect on your journey

  • Take a moment and think quietly with yourself. What progress have you made from where you began? What hardships have you endured and left behind?

Take a mindful moment

  • Practicing a brief mindfulness exercise can be grounding, allowing you to appreciate the here and now. A great one to practice is called “54321”. Take a deep breath and draw your attention to the present moment. As you continue to breathe deeply, try to slowly and intentionally notice the following in your environment: 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.

Find visual or tactile reminders

  • Having sensory reminders throughout your day can remind you to take a moment to be grateful. This can be putting up a picture of a loved one in your workspace, wearing and feeling your favorite socks on a day when you have a large task, or anything tactile that can help you feel a quick boost of gratitude.

Say thank you to yourself and others

  • This one is simple, but effective. Remember, saying thank you to yourself can be just as impactful.

Savor the good

  • If you notice you’re in a good, warm moment – take a minute! Savor it like you would a delicious meal. How exactly are you feeling? What is the situation? This can help make the feeling of goodness and warmth and gratitude last!

One of the things you may notice is that the majority of these center around creating some sort of intentional gratitude routine or gratitude practice. Making gratitude a habit or ritual can help you implement more gratitude cultivation in your everyday life! If you’re looking for more ideas, this article has many ways to work to create a gratitude practice.

What are you going to try to cultivate gratitude today?


Resilience for IBD is Resilience for Life!™


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