What About Gratitude?

12 Scientific Benefits of Gratitude

You may never have proof of your importance, but you are more important than you think. There are always those who couldn’t do without you. The rub is that you don’t always know who.

That little nugget is by Robert Fulghum in his book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. By the time we can tie our shoes, we know the importance of saying “thank you.” It’s one of the first social courtesies we’re taught. Somewhere between the kindergarten classroom and the rat race of life, the practice of gratitude often gets lost. If good manners aren’t enough, recent studies have proven that sincere expressions of gratitude can have a significant impact on healthy brain activity as well as physical and psychosocial health.

As cheesy as it sounds, the attitude of gratitude is good for our health and happiness.  But it also has a huge impact on our relationships with colleagues and our performance at work.  Here are 12 proven benefits of the intentional practice of gratitude.

  1. Personal relationships. By starting each day with a mindset focused on the good and being grateful, you’ll optimize your inherent desire for strong relationships.
  2. Work relationships. Employees have better relationships with their employers when they feel respected and valued. Expressing appreciation for coworkers builds a sense of teamwork and trust that encourages everyone to contribute.
  3. Restful sleep. Gratitude inspires more positive thoughts and fewer negative ones. Gratitude practiced for just15 minutes a day, right before going to bed, allows you to drift into sleep faster and sleep longer and more soundly.
  4. Reduced stress. Gratitude engages the parasympathetic, rest-and-digest, calming part of the nervous system producing a host of positive benefits for the body, including decreasing cortisol levels and increasing oxytocin, the powerful bonding hormone involved in relationships.
  5. Psychological health. A grateful mindset reduces the intensity of a multitude of toxic emotions, from jealousy and resentment to frustration and regret. Studies show that gratitude may induce structural changes in the brains of people suffering from depression.
  6. Increased resilience. For years, research has shown gratitude not only reduces stress but also has a significant impact on overcoming trauma.  Even Vietnam War veterans experienced lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when they with incorporated intentional gratitude into their daily routine.
  7. Reduced aggression. Gratitude motivates people to express prosocial behaviors and greater sensitivity for others’ feelings. Studies show that higher levels of gratitude correlated with reduced aggression, even when treated unkindly.
  8. Improved self-esteem. There is a wealth of research that shows the correlation between gratitude and self-esteem. Rather than becoming resentful of others – gratitude enables people to appreciate our own accomplishments as well as the accomplishments of others which ultimately leads to greater interpersonal relationships, greater empathy and overall happiness with life.
  9. Increased confidence. People who have an attitude of gratitude focus on looking for the positive people and things in their lives. This increases confidence as it reinforces how fortunate they are.
  10. Increased vitality. With all of these benefits of gratitude, it should come as no surprise that gratitude gives us greater energy and vitality. There are many hypotheses supporting why—from stronger immune systems thanks to sleep, to healthier hearts due to less stress, and even to the more spiritual theories—such as being thankful makes us more optimistic and that in itself boosts our vitality. The bottom line is that gratitude contributes to a longer, healthier life.
  11. Mental strength. Gratitude develops mental strength and enables people to move on from the emotional pains of the past. When we focus on the good things in life, it’s easier to forgive others, stop dwelling on our past and be fully present. Mentally strong and grateful people  stand up against their inner critic with strength and confidence instead of beating themselves up for their imperfections and inadequacies.
  12. Inner happiness. Grateful people know that they are in charge of their own happiness.  They don’t spend time comparing themselves to others or feeding feelings of envy or jealousy.  Grateful people are genuinely happy for their own gifts and the gifts of others.

The easiest way to put gratitude to work in your life is by doing one simple thing every single day.

Bookend your day – the first thing in the morning and the last thing you do before bed – with one thing that you’re grateful for.    Say it out loud or better yet, write it down in a gratitude journal. A few minutes of intentional gratitude will elicit a host of positive physical, emotional, and psychological benefits!   


Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Dr. Melissa Hughes is a neuroscience geek, keynote speaker, and author. Her latest book, Happier Hour with Einstein: Another Round explores fascinating research about how the brain works and how to make it work better for greater happiness, well-being, and success. Having worked with learners from the classroom to the boardroom, she incorporates brain-based research, humor, and practical strategies to illuminate the powerful forces that influence how we think, learn, communicate and collaborate. Through a practical application of neuroscience in our everyday lives, Melissa shares productive ways to harness the skills, innovation and creativity within each of us in order to contribute the intellectual capital that empowers organizations to succeed with social, financial and cultural health.

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  1. I always enjoy reading your Neuro Nuggets and watching your videos, Melissa. Thank you for highlighting gratitude in this piece. It’s something I believe we all should focus on, given the current state of things. It can be easy to fall into the negativity abyss and let it consume us. But, there are silver linings in each day, and focusing on them can certainly help to retrain our brains.

    I stand with Susan on this thing – I’m grateful for you also!

  2. This is a powerful message, Melissa. Especially now, when many of us feel like we don’t have a heck of a lot to be grateful for—like when we see people in grocery stores hoarding food and other necessities, resulting in others going without. It is this mindset that will sink us. Thanks so much for the reminder.

    • So true, Sherry! One doesn’t have to go far to find examples of people behaving badly. In fact, I’m working on a Neuro Nugget to address that very topic. Stay tuned….

  3. I know gratitude ‘works’. Thank you, Melissa for enlightening how and why gratitude works. There is always something we can be grateful for.

    I’m grateful for you as a friend and colleague and I am super excited to co-host a gratitude challenge with you very soon.

    • Ditto that to both of you! I think we are all fortunate to have found this platform for our work and a community so rare, so rich with people like you! Grateful, for sure….

  4. I totally agree with you. In fact I have said this for years. “Bookend your day – the first thing in the morning and the last thing you do before bed – with one thing that you’re grateful for. Say it out loud or better yet, write it down in a gratitude journal. “. There is no better way to do life than to live with a heart filled with gratitude.

  5. It was delightful reading your message Melissa, thank you most kindly for highlighting “Gratitude” in our daily lives.

    Over the many years in international work, I have come to realize that gratitude is indeed a sacred responsibility. Gratitude lets us love and honor each other’s divinity, despite our inner imperfections and hard circumstances.

    One of the most profound statements that has helped me in life’s journey was made by none other than Helen Keller,

    “So much has been given to me;
    I have no time to ponder over that which has been denied. “

  6. I think when we’re grateful we are much more compassionate to others because we begin to see everyone through a wider scope, that we are all here for a purpose. Being grateful should be a constant thing as you’ve shared.
    Thank you for the time you put into your article. A very generous share.

    • So glad you found value in this one, Laurie. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts!

  7. Well, Ms. Brain Scientist, one thing I’m grateful every day for is YOU — and no, you’re not a thing.

    But you are a FORCE to be reckoned with, Melissa! Your brain goes where our brain fears to tread because we know so little about it. But for whatever reason(s), I’ve practiced gratitude actively for many years … more and more strongly as time goes by.

    • I am grateful to you right back, Susan. How lucky I am to have such an amazing circle of friends!

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