The Science of Gratitude and Increasing Your Happiness

Gratitude is the appreciation of what you receive. It comes from the word gratia which means grace, gracious or gratefulness.

Most people would not consider themselves ungrateful. However, dissatisfaction can run wild when you don’t get what you want or believe you deserve. In these days of constant change, can we really take anything for granted? Lockdown taught me to appreciate time outside of the house and times with friends – things I had failed to fully appreciate before.

hand holding lights

Do you practice gratitude ?

If you don’t practice gratitude you may want to re think that position.

Take a look at this research which shows that gratitude changes how your brain functions.

“We took some of the people who wrote gratitude letters and compared them with those who didn’t do any writing. We wanted to know if their brains were processing information differently.

We found that across the participants, when people felt more grateful, their brain activity was distinct from brain activity related to guilt and the desire to help a cause. More specifically, we found that when people who are generally more grateful they gave more money to a cause, they showed greater neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a brain area associated with learning and decision making. This suggests that people who are more grateful are also more attentive to how they express gratitude.”

“Most interestingly, when we compared those who wrote the gratitude letters with those who didn’t, the gratitude letter writers showed greater activation in the medial prefrontal cortex when they experienced gratitude in the fMRI scanner. This is striking as this effect was found three months after the letter writing began. This indicates that simply expressing gratitude may have lasting effects on the brain. While not conclusive, this finding suggests that practicing gratitude may help train the brain to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude down the line, and this could contribute to improved mental health over time”

Joel Wong Ph.D., associate professor of counselling psychology at Indiana University and

Joshua Brown, Ph.D., a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University.

So, gratitude moves us away from negative emotions such as envy and mistrust and reverses our priorities  to appreciate the people and things around us. 



More research on gratitude

Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have completed a lot of research on gratitude. In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.

“One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation”

Long lasting impact? 

Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people, each compared with a control assignment of writing about early memories.

“When their week’s assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores. This impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for a month.”

So praticising gratitude could make you more optimistic, increase your happiness and improve your mental health. What’s not to like!!

thank you

Five ways to practice gratitude

  1. Say thank you – both written notes and texts are good.
  2. Keep a gratitude journal and list the things you are grateful for in your life today. Friends, family, having a home, having food, etc. Be as specific or general as you like as long as you are grateful for it.
  3. When you put the kettle on in the morning write one thing you are grateful for and put it in a jar – when you are feeling low, read the contents of your jar.
  4. Pause and praise. Savour two things in a day. Anticipate the coffee, be present when drinking the coffee and then reflect on your gratitude of being able to have a coffee. It becomes a habit and increases focus on what you have rather than what you don’t have.
  5. Create a paperchain of gratitudes  – plain strips, heart shapes, be creative. This is also a good one to do with children. When you see the paperchain you will remember the gratitudes.

Through gratitude we can stop looking for happiness out there somewhere and start to experience it everyday through our feelings and the things around us. After all, our brain’s reticular activator system looks for objects and situations to back up what we believe. It’s called confirmation bias. So, if you believe that there is a lot of good in your life, your brain will back that up by spotting the good stuff.

Are You Ready To Change Your Life?


Finally, some studies say it takes 21 days to form a habit – so why not join our 26 days of gratitude and change your life forever.

Each day we take the next letter of the alphabet and set ourselves the task of thinking about something starting with that letter for which we are grateful. So that’s one gratitude for every letter of the alphabet – this can be a good one to do with children or as a family.

Join our Facebook Community – Discover Your Bounce Community

Share your gratitudes in our 26 Days of Gratitude community project starting on 10th June. Join us here.



John Templeton Foundation : Expanding Gratitude Project.

Greater Good Berkeley article “How Gratitude Changes Yours Brain” by Juliana Breines 30.06.15

Greater Good Berkeley article “Why Gratitude Is Good” by Robert Emmons

I would like to thank Trusha Lakani, CEO at Great Business Matters for her post on LinkedIn of the work of Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman and others, and reminding me of the value of gratitude. #ACCAfamily.











Sharing is caring! Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail
About The Author

Sharon Critchlow

Sharon Critchlow is a Wellbeing Advocate, speaker and facilitator at Discover Your Bounce for Business. Passionate about people being the best they can be she is a Time To Change Champion for mental health and holds a Masters level qualification in strategic coaching for performance. Sharon is a qualified accountant and has 20 years experience in senior leadership roles in the financial services sector.