thank you thank you A simple thank you can mean a lot to both the person thanking and the person being thanked. (Photo: Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock)

5 lessons in gratitude from science

Being grateful can make you happier, healthier and even more rich and popular.

I know, I know – you're sick of people telling you to be more grateful. But I bring you good news: you can be grateful for a whole bunch of selfish reasons! Scientists have been studying gratitude, and they've found some pretty interesting things about simple thank you's. For instance ...

Thank you's are not business interactions, but they can help business.

This may surprise corporate types, but you're better off leaving cash in your wallet if you want to thank someone. Dan Ariely, an Israeli-American professor at Duke University, has found that employees work harder when they're thanked with a compliment or pizza than with cash. In fact, cash bonuses can actually make employees perform worse than usual, as some Intel executives participating in Ariely's study were surprised to discover.

“’Look,” Ariely’s team told the executives, “you thought that the monetary bonus would boost performance. But the data shows that performance actually declined. You ended up paying a bonus and getting worse performance.”

Giving has been around longer than money, and people treat "business" interactions differently than "social" interactions (which is why you can give your mother-in-law flowers as a thank you, but you can't give her cash). If you give someone a compliment, they'll appreciate it. If you give them cash, they'll think of their kindness as a job.


Gratitude makes you popular

soda machinesGrateful people look great in all kinds of sunglasses. (Photo: Kamil Macniak/Shutterstock)

Robert Emmons is a University of California psychologist who studies gratitude. He says that people who keep gratitude journals are more generous, helpful and compassionate, which makes sense. They're also more forgiving and outgoing. Maybe that's why these people feel less lonely and isolated than their ungrateful counterparts. Making other people happy makes them like you more.

"The social benefits are especially significant here because, after all, gratitude is a social emotion," wrote Emmons. "I see it as a relationship-strengthening emotion because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people."


Feeling thankful is good for your body.

Saying thank you isn't just nice; it's healthy. A National Institutes of Health study found that being grateful is a little like going to the gym.

"Our findings suggest that grateful individuals experience better physical health, in part, because of their greater psychological health, propensity for healthy activities, and willingness to seek help for health concerns," write the study's authors.

Emmons also found that people who practice gratitude have lower blood pressure, stronger immune systems and aren't as bothered by pain. They also sleep better and exercise more.


Grateful people are happier.

Arrested DevelopmentThe "Arrested Development" family could probably do with a little more gratitude. (Photo: Screenshot/Hulu)

Emmons found that participants in his studies who practiced gratitude felt more joy, pleasure, optimism and happiness than those who didn't. They also felt more alive, alert and awake (maybe from all that extra sleep, something that happens to be very important for well-being).

"We’ve studied more than one thousand people, from ages 8 to 80, and found that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits," Emmons said.


The world isn't fair, and that's OK.

Discover the Earth as it looks from space in the Cité des Science et de l’Industrie's Earthwatch exhibition.These folks at the Cité des Science et de l’Industrie's Earthwatch exhibition are probably thinking about how unfair the world is right now. (Photo: Cité des Science et de l’Industrie)

If you go through your life thinking that you deserve everything you get, then you end up miserable when things don't work out for you. But if you're grateful for other people, then you can acknowledge that what happens to you isn't all within your control.

"With gratitude comes the realization that we get more than we deserve," said Emmons. "I’ll never forget the comment by a man at a talk I gave on gratitude. 'It’s a good thing we don’t get what we deserve,' he said. 'I’m grateful because I get far more than I deserve.'"

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