Grateful, thankful, appreciative or pleased. How focusing on the positive can make you a happier person

At this time of year it’s common for people to consider what they’re thankful for – but no matter what you celebrate, there are benefits to making time to express what you are grateful for, and could even help you lead a happier life. 

What is positive psychology?

You may have heard the term positive psychology before – if not, it refers to the scientific practise of studying humans emotions, thoughts and behaviour with a focus on the positives, working on creating more good areas versus fixing the bad. Uncovering what makes us tick, what makes us feel like life is worth living, or what raises our base level of happiness. Some of the areas of research include building self-confidence, hope, life satisfaction, creativity, an attitude of gratitude and much more. 

Arguably, one of the most beneficial aspects of this side of research is that it shows us the power of shifting our mindset and perspective on life. It can teach us how to maximise our own happiness from our daily actions and habits to flourish and feel fulfilled. 

Gratitude in positive psychology

Positive psychology studies have shown that gratitude can play a big role in positively influencing happiness, suggesting that the more we practise expressing our gratitude for the things in our lives, the happier we may be. Just as focusing on emotions like envy can make you feel less satisfied with the life you have, practising gratitude can highlight the areas in your life that you are pleased with, which in turn contributes to feeling more satisfied. 

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude

Research into developing gratitude skills has offered a couple of frameworks for how you can build thankfulness into your thought processes. For example, this four step approach to learning gratitude:

  1. Identify non-grateful thoughts
  2. Formulate gratitude-supporting thought substitute
  3. Swap the gratitude-supporting thoughts for the non-grateful thoughts
  4. Translate the inner feeling into outward action

A positive psychologist named Shelton identified gratitude as one of the four ingredients to moral growth alongside self-awareness, self-examination and the ability to adapt behaviour to grow. Shelton named this as a daily moral inventory, suggesting that this process should be incorporated into daily behaviours which, depending on the situation, may take considerable effort. However, this process of recognising when you are thinking negatively, taking a moment to acknowledge that you don’t want to continue thinking this way, and purposefully formulating a new approach can help you to rewire thought processes and emotional responses. Over time, you can see how you’d be more able to frame your view of the world around you in a more positive way.

Benefits of gratitude to wellbeing

A study exploring the relationship between gratitude practise and wellbeing split participants into three groups. The first was asked to write down up to five major events that had occurred that week, the second were asked to record up to five minor inconveniences or stressors, and the final group were asked to write down things they were grateful for. The results showed significant differences, with the group practicing gratitude indicating they were feeling much more positively about their lives, and a lot more optimistic about the upcoming week ahead. The gratitude group even reported exercising more than the other two groups in the study. This suggests that gratitude could even have benefits for physical health, not just mental health. 

Another study into the impact of gratitude on well-being uncovered that those who kept a gratitude journal consecutively for 21 days scored higher on a scale of psychological well-being in comparison to the control group. They were also more likely to report that they had assisted someone with a problem or offered emotional support to someone else, suggesting that gratitude practise could also lead to positive results in social interactions too.

Want to be happier?

No doubt if you ask most people what they want out of life, it is to be happy – right? Well here you go, a method, proven by science to improve your emotional wellbeing (and more!) all contributing to you feeling happier and more fulfilled. And all it takes is to reflect on some things you’re grateful for, and a couple thank you’s? Seems like a good deal to us. 


Take the challenge



Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410–421

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