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Positive Effects of Giving Thanks: Not Just for the Holidays


“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not but rejoices for what he has.” ~Greek philosopher, Epictetus

It is that time of year in which the leaves are changing color, the days are getting shorter, and as we prepare for family meals and holidays, we witness a lot more folks talking about what they are thankful for. The days leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday lend themselves to a shift in our focus onto what we appreciate in our lives, and we notice folks sharing their fall home décor, complete with “thankful” and “blessed” words and uploading daily gratitude posts online. While this seems to be the “natural” time of year to be more focused on gratitude, what happens when this routine extends beyond a brief season? Does it affect us in any specific ways when we practice gratitude regularly? According to various studies, being thankful and practicing gratitude intentionally can positively change our brains, our mental and physical health, and our social connections.

Researchers at the University of Southern California1 found that simply expressing gratitude has lasting effects on our brains. Being intentionally thankful during daily life trains our brains to be more sensitive to future expressions of gratitude and leads to improved mental health. The University of California at Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center notes that practicing gratitude regularly boosts both physical and mental health and well-being2. Those who intentionally focus on gratitude may experience better sleep, exercise more, have reduced symptoms of physical pain, experienced lower levels of inflammation, and have lower blood pressure. People who have experienced trauma and/or injury recover faster from those experiences when they engage in gratitude practices. There is a link between demonstrating gratitude and its effects on the brain’s structures. The regions of the brain tied to social bonding, rewards, and stress relief are affected positively, leading to people experiencing less depression and exhibiting more generosity toward others. Months after people begin to engage in gratitude practices, these brain changes remain in effect and these habits may increase brain activity related to predicting how our actions affect other people.

Gratitude also helps us to stay in the moment—rather than being stuck in the past or racing ahead in our minds to the future problems we expect to experience, making us more mindful and focused on the here and now. Mental health patients who engage in gratitude practices (keeping a journal of what they are grateful for) have better outcomes than those who engage in psychotherapy alone.

A November 2019 article by Eric Lindberg from Harvard Health Publishing notes that gratitude practices are greatly and consistently associated with greater happiness, leading to feelings of more positive emotions, improvements in health, people relishing their positive experiences and being better able to handle adversities. Grateful folks are more likely to be less activated when something negative occurs and be less angry, both characteristics that can lead to better social connections and building of positive relationships. Practicing gratitude can even positively affect the workplace—causing workers to be motivated to work harder if their bosses have expressed gratitude to them for their work3.

Research into the area of gratitude and its effects on the human mind, body and spirit continues to expand to examine whether gratitude is hereditary, whether and how physical and nurturing environments affect our postures of gratitude, cultural influences on gratitude practices, and whether gratitude has any negative connotations in the human experience. While the researchers do this work, we can continue to notice our reasons to be grateful, no matter the season.


12021, August 14. Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier. Retrieved from:

2 Allen, S. (2018). The Science of Gratitude. [White Paper]. Greater Good Science Center at UC-Berkeley.

3 Lindberg, E. (2019, November 25). Practicing Gratitude Can Have Profound Health Benefits, USC Experts Say. Retrieved from:

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