The Psychology of Gratitude and Happiness
Researchers in Positive Psychology have found that gratitude and happiness are always
strongly correlated. A possible theory is that gratitude moves people to experience more
positive emotions, to thoroughly enjoy the good experiences, better their health, face
adversity, and develop and maintain relationships of strength, which in turn makes you
Three common ways people can express their gratitude are:
By being gracious of their past (i.e., think of positive childhood memories)
By being gracious for the present (i.e., taking time to be present and enjoy)
By being grateful for what’s to come (i.e., hopeful and optimistic of the future) (Giving thanks
makes you happier).
Gilbert Keith Chesterton, (often known as G.K. Chesterton) is a prolific English writer, poet,
philosopher, etc. who coined the quote “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of
thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder” (Sacasas, 2010).
Chesterton takes the attitude that giving thanks or showing gratitude for whatever you are
doing is critical in order to be happy. In addition, appreciate anything and everything you
have, or don’t have anything at all. In short – take nothing for granted (Taylor, 2014).
A Look at Science and Research
Does the happier you are, correlate to the longer you live? Yoichi Chida and Andrew Steptoe
(2008) attempted to answer this question.
Chida and Steptoe (2008) conducted a meta-analysis on 35 longitudinal studies; the
researchers found that happiness positively effects longevity. These positive effects
included: a more positive psychological wellbeing and a lower mortality rate for everyone
whether they were healthy or sick (Carr, 2011).
Healthy population studies have found that when participants exhibited a positive affect, like
joy, happiness, energy and vigor, life satisfaction, optimism, and a sense of humor – there
was a lower mortality rate (Carr, 2011).
Adding to the evidence that happiness correlates with a longer life are researchers Danner,
D.D., Snowdon, D.A., & Friesen, W.V. (2001). They completed a large follow-back study with
180 nuns in the US. All of the nuns had a similar lifestyle, diet, and schedule.
Danner et al. (2001) instructed the nun participants to write essays as they entered into their
religious order. The nuns wrote about themselves and their life from childhood to present
day, and their hopes and dreams for their lives.
The nuns were unaware that their essays would be analyzed for a happiness and longevity
study. The researchers found that, about 50 some years later, 90% of the happiest nuns
lived past 85 (years old), and only 34% who scored as the least happy lived past 85 (Carr,
We can see that happiness can increase our longevity. However what are the factors that
determine happiness? Sonya Lyumbomirsky (2007), a psychology researcher, theorized that
there are three causes of happiness.
Genetic happiness set-point: is responsible for 50% of our happiness, determined by our
Intentional activity: accounts for about 40% of our happiness, meaning the activities that we
intentionally set out to do throughout our lives, that can better our wellbeing or increase our
Environmental circumstances: account for 10% of the reason we are happy, usually it
depends on the circumstances that which we are surrounded with and how this encourages
or inhibits skills and opportunities for us to achieve happiness (Lyumbomirsky, 2007).
While there are different causes of happiness, one way for sure to bring about more
happiness is gratitude.
Leaders in Positive Psychology, researchers Dr. Robert A. Emmons and Dr. Michael E.
McCullough, studied gratitude and directed participants to write a few sentences weekly on
The topics ranged from what they were grateful for to what irritants they had encountered
that week. At 10 weeks, the researchers found that the participants who wrote about
gratitude were more hopeful about the future and had less medical appointments, and
exercised more (Giving thanks can make you happier).
Other Interesting Research and Studies
There are many researchers looking at how to measure and predict positive emotions in
order to share with the world the key factors responsible or what are the best tools and skills
to practice to be happier.
Gratitude Predicts Hope and Happiness: A Two-Study Assessment of Traits and States
(vanOyen Witvliet, 2018).
vanOyen Witvilet and her team of researchers studied and assessed how gratitude could
possibly predict hope and happiness, respectively. The researchers assessed gratitude
writing in the intervention group.
Their theory of gratitude was inspired by, Roberts (2004), in that they found that “gratitude is
about givers, gifts, recipients, and the attitudes of giver and recipients toward one another.”
Gratitude compared to joy and hope is a much deeper social emotion, whereas joy is a result
of a behavior or action, and hope is a thought of a future action or good (p. 65).
Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and
Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life, by Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough.
Researchers Emmons and McCullough assessed the effect of having a grateful outlook on a
person’s psychological and physical wellbeing. A total of 3 studies were conducted, studies 1
and 2, participants were randomized into 1 of 3 groups:
- Gratitude listing,
- Either neutral life events or social comparison.
For the first two studies, the participants were also asked to keep a record of their moods,
coping behaviors, health behaviors, physical symptoms, and overall life appraisals.
For the third study, prior to enrollment, these participants had been diagnosed with a
neuromuscular disease, and were randomly assigned to either the gratitude intervention or
the control group.
Although the researchers were looking to see benefits in both the positive affect and somatic
realm, only in the social-emotional aspect did the participants show a higher positive affect
(Emmons and McCullough, 2003).
A study conducted at Loyola University Chicago, by Fred Bryant and Joseph Veroff (2007);
found that a “savoring walk” each day can help with happiness.
How exactly? The participants took a “savoring walk” daily for a week, and reported back
that there was an increase in their overall happiness. Their explanation surmises that if you
take the time to notice the good things in life you will feel happier.
Deeper conversations provide for a happier life.
Psychological researchers Matthias R. Mehl, Shannon E. Holleran, C. Shelby Clark, and
Simine Vazire looked at the difference in happiness for people who were less social and had
more superficial conversations versus people that were more social and had deeper
Their findings showed that those that had more deep conversations and socialized more
frequently with others were happier (Association of Psychological Science, 2010).