Experts say that being grateful is good for our health—but can it truly make us happier?
How often do you feel—and express—gratitude in your everyday life? Perhaps you’re thinking of the numerous times that you’ve said “thank you” to someone for holding the door—or maybe you’re remembering the last time you felt grateful to be spending time with friends. Whatever the case, you might also be wondering: How much impact can these small, sometimes fleeting moments of gratitude really have on your life?
As it turns out, the answer is: A lot. According to experts, the act of practicing gratitude (which goes way beyond just saying “thank you,” by the way!) has been shown to have myriad benefits for your mental and physical health—from increasing feelings of optimism and hope to strengthening your relationships, boosting immunity, and even improving sleep.
But wait: What exactly is gratitude, anyway—and can it actually make us happier? To find out, we tapped psychologists and mental health experts to weigh in—including on what gratitude really means, its long-term benefits on your health, and the best ways to practice it in your daily life.
What is gratitude?
Gratitude is “a positive state of mind evoked by focusing on and appreciating the good in one’s life,” explains Erin Wiley, M.A., L.P.C.C., a licensed clinical psychotherapist and executive director of The Willow Center. “It is being conscientious about living in a state of thankfulness.”
But gratitude goes beyond just recognizing the good in your life—it also entails acknowledging that the good comes from factors outside of yourself, says Mary Ann Little, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of the forthcoming book Childhood Narcissism: Strategies to Raise Unselfish, Unentitled, and Empathetic Children. “Gratitude works to encourage recognition of the sources of goodness as being outside of the self,” she explains. “This requires an appreciation for the contributions of others and external events. In this way, it is an unselfish practice, as the focus of gratitude is on the world around us, on both people and activities—externalities—that are not ourselves.”