4 Science-Backed Reasons Gratitude Brings You Happiness

UPDATED: August 6, 2021
PUBLISHED: July 16, 2017

When was the last time you felt satisfied with your life?

When everything is going really great and especially when it gets tough, it’s easy to forget to be grateful. But if the science behind routinely practicing gratitude is so convincing—it has been associated with greater well-being in a wealth of psychological research—why aren’t we grateful more often?

Here are four simple reminders that being grateful can actually bring you happiness, so practice it!

1. Gratitude helps your brain process other positive emotions, including joy.

Routinely practicing gratitude helps us experience increased positive emotions including interest, excitement, joy and pride.

Gratitude increases dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain, which are key neurotransmitters that give us feelings of contentment. If we are grateful more often, the happiness-producing neural pathways strengthen, just as exercise strengthens the body. 

Related: How 30 Days of Kindness Made Me a Better Person

2. Gratitude promotes optimism, which leads to greater well-being.

Researchers from the University of California, Davis and the University of Miami found that after regularly expressing gratitude for 10 weeks, study participants reported feeling more optimistic about their lives. Optimism, in turn, has been shown to be a life-lengthening trait in a recent Harvard University study.

In terms of the impact on overall health, one study found that “Optimism may significantly influence mental and physical well-being by the promotion of a healthy lifestyle….” Indeed, overall well-being seems to be influenced by optimism, which can be strengthened by gratitude.

Related: 4 Reasons You Should Celebrate Others’ Success

3. Expressing gratitude strengthens relationships.

Robert Emmons, Ph.D., a gratitude researcher, writes, “When you become truly aware of the value of your friends and family members, you are likely to treat them better, perhaps producing an ‘upward spiral,’ a sort of positive feedback loop, in which strong relationships give you something to be grateful for, and in turn fortifying those very same relationships.”

Healthy relationships make us happy. How? According to the longest-running study on human development by Harvard University, the No. 1 predictor of health and happiness in a person’s life is the quality of their relationships.

4. If you receive gratefulness, you’re probably likely to pay it forward.

If gratitude promotes benevolence, wouldn’t that make for a better world? Consider this: Expressing gratitude to a loved one or friend can lead him or her to pay it forward. Receiving appreciation makes us feel loved—feelings that can inspire us to initiate more positive and helpful actions toward others. As positive psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., wrote in her book The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, “Grateful people are more likely to help others [because] you become aware of kind and caring acts and feel compelled to reciprocate.”

Related: Try These 30 Random Acts of Kindness to Brighten Someone’s Day

Try these three simple tips to start expressing gratitude in your life:

  • Write a thank-you text, handwritten note or email to someone who has been a positive force in your life.
  • Remind yourself of one thing to be grateful for every morning before getting out of bed.
  • Give genuine compliments to people you don’t know but who provide you with a good service, such as a waiter, teacher, nurse, etc.

Najma Khorrami is a global and public health professional with a passion for writing to help others. She is a writer for The Huffington Post and Layali Webzine. Najma has worked for The Center for Global Health and Diplomacy, Northern Virginia Family Service and others, and she has contributed to global health projects for institutions including the Pan American Health Organization. She enjoys cooking and exercising.