The Role of Gratitude in Wellbeing

Unlike earlier psychological work which focused on treating mental illness, positive psychology is a relatively new field that studies the making of a good life building upon the humanistic movement (recall Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). It officially became a domain of psychology in 1998 when Martin Seligman deemed it the American Psychological Association’s annual theme. What, then, makes a good life? Positive psychology experts suggest that gratitude is a key factor to living a fulfilling life (Wood, Froh & Geraghty, 2010). The remainder of the article will discuss the role of gratitude in various areas of our lives, and ways we can practice gratitude to enhance our overall well-being.

Gratitude in romantic relationships. Work done by Gordon, Arnette & Smith (2011) demonstrated a relationship between felt gratitude and martial satisfaction, such that the couples who were most satisfied with their relationship also reported greater feelings of gratitude. However, this study was unable to demonstrate that felt gratitude caused greater martial satisfaction. It could have simply been that individuals who were more satisfied with their relationships felt more gratitude. However, Rash, Matsuba & Prkachin (2011) provided experimental evidence that the relationship between gratitude and satisfaction is indeed causal. In a four-week-long intervention, they found that adults randomly assigned to participate in gratitude tasks (e.g. thinking or writing about something or someone they are grateful for, or writing a thank-you letter to someone) showed greater gains in life satisfaction (as measured through a scale) after the intervention as compared to individuals who performed neutral tasks throughout that period of time (e.g. describing their bedroom). Another successful gratitude intervention involves simply listing things for which we are grateful.

Gratitude in children and adolescents. In 2009, Froth, Kasdan, Ozimkowski & Miller also demonstrated the benefits of gratitude on positive affect in children and adolescents. Positive affect is a term in the literature that refers to positive feelings like calm, happiness, excitement, and tranquility. Students in this study were given instructions to either write a thank-you letter every day for the next five days to someone they have never expressed thanks to or write in a journal about daily events. After the five-day intervention, the researchers found that the gratitude intervention was most effective for youth lower in positive affect (i.e. children and adolescents who generally felt less positive). These benefits were even present two months after the intervention! What are the emotional and societal benefits of increased gratitude in youth? By tracking middle schoolers’ ratings of gratitude, social integration, pro-social behavior and life satisfaction over the course of six months, Froh, Bono & Emmons (2010) were able to show that higher ratings of gratitude at the start of the study predicted greater pro-social behavior (e.g. helping a classmate with their work) and general life satisfaction three months later. The students’ ratings of pro-social behavior and general life satisfaction at the three-month mark also predicted greater social integration (e.g. liking to volunteer, feeling like a part of their communities/neighborhoods) at six months!

Gratitude in clinical psychology. Though positive psychology’s focus isn’t necessarily on the treatment of mental illness, concepts like gratitude seem to at least play some role in clinical psychology. Kleiman, Adams, Kasdan & Riskind (2013) demonstrated that individuals with high amounts of gratitude (as measured through a scale) also scored lower on a suicide-ideation scale. Moreover, they demonstrated that the grittier the individual, the more gratitude was related to reduced suicide-ideation. However, please note that this article is in no way suggesting any form of clinical intervention. It is important for us to receive the proper care we need. Therefore, if you are seeking mental health assistance, please contact a healthcare professional.

Conclusion. Throughout this article, we have discussed the important role gratitude plays in our romantic relationships, development and clinical psychology. It not only increases general life satisfaction, but it can promote happier relationships, engage the youth and potentially play an integral role in saving lives. So, how are you going to practice gratitude today, tomorrow and the next day? Remember that it can take as little as five minutes to jot down a few things you are thankful for! Take care and stay positive!


Froh, J. J., Bono, G., & Emmons, R. (2010). Being grateful is beyond good manners: Gratitude and motivation to contribute to society among early adolescents. Motivation and Emotion34(2), 144-157.

Froh, J. J., Kashdan, T. B., Ozimkowski, K. M., & Miller, N. (2009). Who benefits the most from a gratitude intervention in children and adolescents? Examining positive affect as a moderator. The journal of positive psychology4(5), 408-422.

Gordon, C. L., Arnette, R. A., & Smith, R. E. (2011). Have you thanked your spouse today?: Felt and expressed gratitude among married couples. Personality and Individual Differences50(3), 339-343.

 Kleiman, E. M., Adams, L. M., Kashdan, T. B., & Riskind, J. H. (2013). Gratitude and grit indirectly reduce risk of suicidal ideations by enhancing meaning in life: Evidence for a mediated moderation model. Journal of Research in Personality47(5), 539-546.

 Rash, J. A., Matsuba, M. K., & Prkachin, K. M. (2011). Gratitude and well‐being: Who benefits the most from a gratitude intervention?. Applied Psychology: Health and Well‐Being3(3), 350-369.

Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical psychology review30(7), 890-905.