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How to Be Happy: Express Gratitude

Going beyond thank-you notes improves health and wellbeing.

You’re independent and capable. Asking for help isn’t always easy. But the next time someone does you a favor, try expressing gratitude. You’ll love the results.

Expressing gratitude boosts happiness and decreases feelings of depression. Grateful people experience greater life satisfaction and are less likely to be envious or anxious. They’re more empathetic, forgiving, hopeful, less materialistic and more generous than their less grateful counterparts.

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How to Be Happy: Express Gratitude

Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Psychology at University of California, Riverside, has done extensive research on gratitude, and the topic is part of her book "The How of Happiness." She says people who write five things they’re grateful for once each week or write gratitude letters to those they appreciate are happier, more optimistic and more connected to others. She emphasizes that a gratitude letter is different from a thank-you note. 

“Often, thank-you notes are written out of duty. A gratitude letter involves writing paragraphs or pages of what’s making you feel grateful for this person, thing or situation. You elaborate upon what you’re grateful for; it’s more powerful than thank-you notes,” Dr. Lyubomirsky says.

Here are some ways to express gratitude:

  •  Write a gratitude email or letter. It doesn’t matter whether you send it. Dr. Lyubomirsky says this activity makes you feel content and improves your mood because it can help you appreciate your relationships.
  • Keep a gratitude journal. List what you’re grateful for—with feeling.
  • Turn to technology. Download “Live Happy,” an iPhone app based on Dr. Lyubomirsky’s book. You can perform happiness-increasing exercises, including expressing gratitude. Select friends and family members in your contact list, and send them words of appreciation. Or jot down what you’re grateful for in a digital journal. The application measures how much these activities increase your happiness.

MORE: How to Keep a Journal

“When you use these mechanisms, they can make you feel more charitable and generous. Expressing gratitude has been shown to prevent people from taking things for granted,” Dr. Lyubomirsky says.

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