Studies have shown that having a grateful attitude comes with a myriad of benefits, including long-lasting happiness.
Gratitude can be an elusive emotion. Our tendency is to go in the opposite direction, to feel that things are never as good as they ought to be or as we want them to be, to reach past what we have attained, to have expectations for things that lie just beyond our grasp. When one goal is attained, isn’t there always another one that needs to be seized? And wasn’t it Stevenson who wrote that the blessedness of the human condition was, precisely, this endless pursuit of goals?
Without a certain amount of gratitude, however, we will rarely find ourselves at peace and will rarely be at rest. Stripped of all gratitude people are usually left short-tempered, frustrated, impatient, and fearful in a state of perpetual discontent. Without gratitude we are also blinded to the blessings of family, the gift of friendship, the wonders of nature, and the many delightful and beautiful things surrounding us.
That is why it comes as no surprise that many studies have found that gratitude is among the healthiest of emotions and that there are mental and physical benefits of having a grateful attitude in life. Research from Northeastern University, for instance, found out that people with a heightened daily gratitude were more patient and better able to make reasonable decisions. On the other hand, experiments conducted at the University of Zurich have shown gratitude is also very powerful antidote against depression and that people who partake in the “three good things” exercise —which, as the name suggests, prompts people to acquire the daily habit of writing down three good moments or things that happened during the day— see considerable improvements in their overall happiness. And it isn’t just a passing state of happiness; other studies have shown a correlation between regularly taking time to express gratitude and long-lasting happiness.
Gratitude can even help improve more everyday and less “philosophical” things, like our romantic relationships and our self-care. According to a study in the Journal of Theoretical Social Psychology, everyday gratitude improves numerous aspects of romantic relationships, including feelings of connectedness and overall satisfaction as a couple. And a study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences found positive correlations between gratitude and self-care, between levels of gratitude and how likely people are to do wellbeing-boosting behaviors like exercise, healthy eating and going to the doctor.
However, this isn’t the first time humankind has discovered the importance of gratitude. Rather than seeing these studies as advances into unexplored territories, we might better understand them as the corroboration of ideas that many Western thinkers have been developing for centuries. Ignatius of Loyola, the 16th-century Spanish theologian and founder of the Society of Jesus, for instance, wrote, “Ingratitude —or the failure to recognize the good things, the graces and the gifts received— is one of the things most worthy of detestation before our Creator and Lord.” And in the last century, Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset said, “Ingratitude is man’s greatest defect. The ungrateful forgets most of the things he has are not his own work … To be conscious of being a heir is to have a true historical conscience.” And many centuries before them, it was Cicero who wrote: “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”