Power of Gratitude

“Gratitude is one of the most neglected emotions and one of the most underestimated of the virtues.”[1]Robert Emmons

This year has been a testing time for many people. Everyone’s lives were affected by Covid-19 and the ensuing lockdowns, and the lasting effects of the trauma caused by this event are yet to come. The closure of face-to-face mutual support groups has impacted those in recovery from mental health conditions and substance use. We are also living in a time of increased tensions within the United States. Despite this, there is always something to be grateful for. This article will explore the power that gratitude can have on mental well-being and will focus specifically on how it can help those in recovery.

Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, states that, “it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received. We recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves[2].”The benefits of gratitude don’t just stop with the individual. Acclaimed sociologist Gerog Simmel calls it the “moral memory of mankind”; if we feel that we good things have happened for us, we are more inclined to do good things for others[3].

What is Gratitude?

Gratitude does not have to be for material things, and it does not have to be for huge events. It is wide-ranging and could simply mean being grateful for opening your eyes in the morning, the crisp feel of the fall leaves under your feet, or a smile from a loved one. There are endless ways to practice it.

Some people make lists at the end of the day for things they are grateful for; some do it during spiritual practices such as prayer and meditation; and others make a point of expressing gratitude to those around them. Some studies have found that the latter form of gratitude is associated with happier, more loyal and longer lasting relationships[4].

How Does Gratitude Help?

Gratitude has been extensively studied in the field of Positive Psychology and has been shown to have numerous benefits. One study found that it improved sleep quality and sleep duration, with reduced sleep latency and daytime dysfunction[5]. Other researchers found that gratitude reduced diastolic blood pressure while improving optimism and hedonic well-being[6]. Gratitude is also linked to improved overall health and willingness to seek help for health problems[7].

The benefits of gratitude do not stop with the physical – it also offers many mental health and wellbeing benefits. One study found that practicing gratitude reduced depressive symptoms and stress among healthcare workers[8]. Gratitude also reduces symptoms of anxiety. It is thought that this is because it enables us to have a less critical and more compassionate relationship with ourselves[9]. Suicidal ideation was also reduced through practicing gratitude[10].

Gratitude has also been shown to be a powerful tool for those recovering from substance abuse and other habitual behaviors. Research has shown that increased levels of it were linked to an improved perception of quality of life, which in turn lead to a more favorable treatment outcome[11]. Those in 12-step fellowships who practice gratitude are also more likely to have a successful recovery[12]. Interestingly, this was also true for those with an avoidant attachment style, who usually appear to be able to successfully self soothe. The link of gratitude to increased resilience is an important trait for those in recovery[13].

Is There a Downside to Gratitude?

As discussed previously, there are numerous benefits of gratitude. However, if something is troubling you, don’t pretend to be grateful for it. It is crucial that people communicate their authentic feelings and thoughts as well as maintaining thankfulness. This is particularly true for those in early recovery, who may still be coming to terms with how to express themselves properly.


Cultivating gratitude brings positivity into everything we do. It alters the way we perceive things – the more we focus on the positive sides of things, the more we are inclined to notice them of our own accord. It is important to remember that this change does not happen overnight – it is something which needs to be worked at constantly.

If you are interested in gratitude, you could try writing down five things you are grateful for at the end of the day. By writing these things down, you bring them to the forefront of your mind and get a tangible copy you can refer back to in times of need.  When you start seeing things from a grateful perspective, you will see that life is noticeably more beautiful and fulfilling.

Originally published at: https://www.heatherhayes.com/the-power-of-gratitude/


[1] Emmons, Robert A, and Michael E McCullough. The Psychology Of Gratitude. Oxford University Press, 2004.

[2] Emmons, Robert. “Definition | What Is”. Greater Good, 2010, https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic//definition.

[3] Simmel, Georg, and Kurt H Wolff. The Sociology Of Georg Simmel. The Free Press, 1985.

[4] Algae, S. B., Gable, S. L., & Maisel, N. C. (2010). It’s the little things: Everyday gratitude as a booster shot for romantic relationships. Personal Relationships, 17(2), 217–233. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-6811.2010.01273.x

[5] Wood, Alex M et al. “Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions.” Journal of psychosomatic research vol. 66,1 (2009): 43-8. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychores.2008.09.002

[6] Jacko ska, Marta, et al. “The Impact of a Brief Gratefulness Intervention on Subjective Well-Being, Biology and Sleep.” Journal of Health Psychology, vol. 21, no. 10, Oct. 2016, pp. 2207–2217, doi:10.1177/1359105315572455.

[7] Hill, Patrick L et al. “Examining the Pathways between Gratitude and Self-Rated Physical Health across Adulthood.” Personality and individual differences vol. 54,1 (2013): 92-96. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2012.08.011

[8] Cheng, Sheung-Tak et al. “Improving mental health in health care practitioners: randomized controlled trial of a gratefulness intervention.” Journal of consulting and clinical psychology vol. 83,1 (2015): 177-86. doi:10.1037/a0037895

[9] Petrocchi, N., & Couyoumdjian, A. (2016). The impact of gratitude on depression and anxiety: The mediating role of criticizing, attacking, and reassuring the self. Self and Identity, 15(2), 191–205. https://doi.org/10.1080/15298868.2015.1095794

[10] Kaniuka, Andrea R et al. “Gratitude and suicide risk among college students: Substantiating the protective benefits of being thankful.” Journal of American college health : J of ACH, 1-8. 16 Jan. 2020, doi:10.1080/07448481.2019.1705838

[11] Ghalesefidi, Maryam Jamshidian et al. “Effectiveness of gratitude on psychological well-being and quality of life among hospitalized substance abuse patients”. Electronic Journal of General Medicine, vol. 16, no. 2, 2019, em128. https://doi.org/10.29333/ejgm/94091

[12] LaBelle, O. P., & Edelstein, R. S. (2018). Gratitude insecure attachment, and positive outcomes among 12-step recovery program participants. Addiction Research & Theory, 26(2), 123–132. https://doi.org/10.1080/16066359.2017.1333111

[13] Dwiwardani, Carissa, et al. “Virtues Develop from a Secure Base: Attachment and Resilience as Predictors of Humility, and Forgiveness.” Journal of Psychology and Theology, vol. 42, no. 1, Mar. 2014, pp. 83–90, doi:10.1177/009164711404200109.