What's so great about gratitude?

1. Grateful people have deeper friendships


There's something special about gratitude. It's about recognition of the positive effect someone or something else has had on your life. And yet, it's not simply about receiving - grateful people are also more likely to help others. Perhaps this is because gratitude is closely related to personality traits such as as extraversion, agreeableness, forgiveness, empathy and trust.


Together, this all means that gratitude helps to develop strong, meaningful social bonds between people. That, in turn, means that grateful people are better able to cope with stress, because they have deep, meaningful friendship networks to support them during difficult times.


2. Grateful people are less envious


Both gratitude and envy are outward-looking in that they are reactions to someone or something else. But, where gratitude is giving thanks for someone else, envy is resenting them. So, in this way, they are opposite sides of the same coin. This means that they are incompatible - you can't be grateful and envious at the same time. Just like you can't be relaxed and anxious at the same time. And here's the extension of that - the gratitude that you feel for others means that not only do you not envy their successes, it actually means that you're happy when something good happens to them.


Because they lack envy, grateful people are less materialistic. That same positive outward-looking basis of gratitude means that grateful people are more generous with their material possessions and much less committed to the idea that material wealth leads to happiness. This is all good because of the clear evidence that a preoccupation with materialism damages wellbeing and working on your gratitude can help that.


3. Grateful people have higher self-esteem


Gratitude is about paying attention to all the good things coming your way. Given that kind of focus, it's easy to see why gratitude is so closely linked to high self-esteem. Because if you had no worth at all, surely no one would bother sending positive things your way. Because of the lack of focus on materialism and the lack of envy towards others, it also becomes more likely that your self esteem will be stable regardless of the ups and downs of life.


4. Grateful people squeeze the most juice out of the good times


Grateful people are biased. They focus more on the good things that have happened to them. And this is not just at the time it happens - grateful people are also much more likely to remember good things from their past than negative things. This is not due to consciously selecting positive memories, as it applies just as much to intrusive memories - grateful people are ambushed my good memories!


One of the reasons for this seems to be that gratitude can brings closure to an unpleasant memory. For example, when asked to write about the positive consequences from an unpleasant event, people showed more memory closure, less unpleasant emotional impact, and less intrusiveness of the negative memory than others who simply wrote about the negative event.


What this memory bias means is that gratitude helps you to keep on re-living the good experiences from your past. This, in turn, can lead affect your sense of who you are, because identity itself is affected by the memories we recall.


5. Grateful people achieve their goals


There's a kind of passive character to gratitude because it's about acknowledging that you have received (rather than done) something positive. However, we've already seen that grateful people are more likely to help other people, and more likely to work on developing deep friendships, so it's perhaps not surprising that there's also a pro-active aspect to being grateful. This extends to life goals. People who were asked to keep a gratitude journal for ten weeks made more progress towards their life goals than people in a control condition.


Gratitude makes life worth living


When you stack all of this up, it's not hard to believe that among all the personality traits, gratitude has one of the highest correlations with wellbeing. It brings life satisfaction, vitality, and happiness. And, best of all, you can do something about it. Something pretty simple. One of the most powerful studies asked students to write a letter to someone they were grateful to and deliver it to them in person. For the students who were less happy to start with, this had a significant effect on their gratitude and happiness compared to a control condition. And that happiness effect lasted - it was still there when the researcher checked back two months later.