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4 Science-Backed Benefits of a Gratitude Practice

A growing body of research on gratitude shows how taking note of what you are thankful for can improve your well-being.

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Don’t wait until Thanksgiving to count your blessings. Recording what you are grateful for and going out of your way to thank the people in your life can improve your mental and physical health and even bolster your marriage, according to a growing body of research on gratitude. Here are four ways research has shown gratitude can help you improve your life:

1. Gratitude can protect your marriage.

Did you remember to thank your better half today? A new study recently published in the journal Personal Relationships found that spouses who felt appreciated by their partner were happier in their marriage, more committed, and less likely to have thought about divorce. “Our findings indicated the benefit that gratitude—specifically feeling gratitude and appreciation from your partner—can have for a marriage,” says the study’s lead author Allen Barton, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Georgia’s Center for Family Research.

The study also found that higher levels of felt spousal gratitude (i.e., feeling appreciated, acknowledged, and valued by one’s partner) buffered men’s and women’s thoughts of divorce and women’s marital commitment from the negative effects of poor communication during conflict. “Taken together, results from the study highlight how feeling appreciated and gratefulness from your spouse can help your marriage thrive even if you are experiencing distress in other areas, such as financial strain or poor communication during conflict,” Barton says. Read more about the study.

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2. Gratitude may improve heart health.

Feeling grateful for the positive things in your life could help protect your ticker, according to a recent study published by the American Psychological Association in the journal Spirituality in Clinical Practice. The research found that patients with asymptomatic heart failure who kept gratitude journals for eight weeks showed reductions in circulating levels of several important inflammatory biomarkers related to cardiac health, as well as an increase in heart rate variability while they wrote (improved heart rate variability is considered a measure of reduced cardiac risk). More gratitude in these patients was also associated with better mood, better sleep, and less fatigue.

“It seems that a more grateful heart is indeed a more healthy heart and that gratitude journaling is an easy way to support cardiac health,” says lead author Paul J. Mills, PhD, professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego. Read more about the study.

3. Gratitude boosts happiness and reduces depression.

In a 2005 study, positive psychology pioneer Martin E. P. Seligman and co-authors asked participants to write and deliver a letter of gratitude in person to someone who had been especially kind to them but had never been properly thanked. The researchers followed the participants for six months, periodically measuring symptoms of both depression and happiness. The “gratitude visit,” as they called it, caused large positive changes for one month, boosting happiness and decreasing depressive symptoms.

See alsoGratitude Practice: The Power of a Handwritten Thank You Note

4. Gratitude makes you more optimistic and more likely to help others.

In a series of 2003 studies from gratitude expert Robert A. Emmons of the University of California at Davis and Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more, reported fewer symptoms of physical illness, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week. In a second study, those who recorded what they what they were grateful for on a daily basis were also more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or offered emotional support to another person.