What Is Gratitude And How Can It Improve Your Mental Health?

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated April 26, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Cultivating a mindset of appreciation for yourself, others, and the world around you has been linked to improved mental health outcomes, regardless of culture, demographics, and individual differences. If you're interested in learning how gratitude might benefit your life, looking at the studies surrounding this topic for those of all backgrounds can be valuable.

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The word "gratitude" describes a positive emotion that people often feel when expressing thankfulness or appreciation. Some people might struggle with gratitude because they feel it invalidates their experiences. However, being a grateful person does not necessarily mean feeling thankful for everything or ignoring your personal problems. Instead, it can involve taking a few minutes out of your day or week to acknowledge what you're thankful for in the present moment.

What is gratitude?

Gratitude has become a popular tool for anyone of any age. A surveyconducted in November 2020 found that 74% of respondents wanted to learn how to experience gratitude. Starting a routine may benefit you if you're one of these people. Some people keep gratitude journals or commit to daily affirmations about the areas of their lives they're thankful for. These activities may take up a few minutes each day but can be done consistently to improve mental health.

How can gratitude improve mental health?

Several positive psychology studies have been conducted on the connection between a greater sense of gratitude and mental health. Below are a few correlations uncovered by current research.

More gratitude is associated with fewer depression and anxiety symptoms

A 2016 paperexplains how gratitude correlates with fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression. A grateful state is described as a "factor" in symptom reduction because it's connected to "a less critical, less punishing, and more compassionate relationship with the self." Evidence suggests that developing a mindset of gratitude helps individuals counteract the adverse experiences in their lives due to mental illness.

Gratitude can improve sleep

Sleep is a crucial part of both one's mental and physical well-being. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services,sleep is linked to an improved immune system, reduced stress, an improved mood, lower blood pressure, and better decisions. Experiencing gratitude and other positive emotions regularly may help you sleep better, which could increase your performance at work, in relationships, or at school.

Some studies have linked gratitude to sleep quality, with five out of eight studiesin one meta-analysis showing signs of increased subjective sleep quality, asthma control, and eating behaviors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teens aged 13 to 18 need eight to ten hours of sleep per 24 hours; adults require around seven hours, and young children benefit from 12 to 14 hours per night.

Gratitude may improve friendships

Gratitude doesn't only benefit the individual who practices it. It may help you feel more connected to your loved ones. A 2021 study found that gratitude can increase cooperation between people by "signaling communal relationship norms" and fueling "upward spirals of mutually responsive behaviors." Another studylooked at how gratitude changed behavior and found that those who practiced gratitude were likelier to behave in healthy ways, which could improve relationships.

Gratitude may reduce stress

Research shows that gratitude can reduce stress. Not only can this benefit positively impact the quality of a person's day-to-day life, but it can have long-lasting effects. Work and school stress often leads to mental burnout, which is correlated with symptoms of depression. As gratitude can involve changing your thought patterns, you may experience a reduction in maladaptive thinking patterns often present with conditions like depression.


Gratitude can benefit physical health

Gratitude has also been linked to more positive physical health outcomes. One study found "dispositional gratitude" to positively correlate with self-reported physical health, a likelihood of practicing healthy activities, and a willingness to seek medical guidance. The above impacts, like improved sleep, may also improve physical health.

Ways you can practice gratitude

There are many ways to increase gratitude in daily life. Below are a few ways you can get started. Note that gratitude can be practiced anywhere, including on the go. For some, gratitude involves a quick action or thought. For others, it can become a lifestyle.

Say "thank you"

Thank someone, either verbally or in writing, and be specific. You might tell one of your friends how their personal qualities have positively influenced your life or tell your partner you're thankful for their impact on your life. You might also write a thank you letter to remind yourself of what you've been through and the growth you've made in your lifetime, regardless of your age. 

Savor the "little things"

Try to savor the "little things" throughout your day.  Closing your eyes and noticing every flavor of the first bite of your dinner or recognizing how comforting the sun feels on your face are two examples. You can also appreciate a fun outing with friends or laughing with your family at a get-together.

Keep a gratitude journal

Stanford Medicine showcases that gratitude journaling can be associated with lower stress, depression, and anxiety. Other studies have found that expressive writing in general is linked to improved mental health. Try to write three things you're grateful for each day. The more consistently you practice counting blessings, the more aware and thankful you may be.

If it helps, bring your journal to work or school with you. You can grab it during a break and quickly write down a few areas of your day that made you thankful. As professional environments often provide a sense of productivity, writing about what you're grateful for in this fast-paced environment may be more manageable than when you're ready to rest at home.

Practice one act of kindness per week

People of any age can practice acts of kindness. Adults might try paying for someone's coffee at a drive-thru, offering a kind note to a stranger, or donating to someone in your community. Teens can sign up to volunteer for a local animal shelter, be a teacher's aide at school, or volunteer to clean up after a school concert. There are several ways you can show care for your community.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
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Counseling options

While practicing gratitude has the potential to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, it may be recommended to meet with a mental health professional if you're experiencing these symptoms. If you face barriers to treatment like cost, distance, or discomfort, you can also reach out to a therapist through an online platform like BetterHelp.

An online therapist can provide a safe space to express and process your emotions and learn healthier coping skills, regardless of age. If you're interested in meeting with a therapist, know that research suggeststhat online and in-person treatment may offer equal effectiveness for many mental health topics. In addition, research has confirmed that online therapy is more cost-effective.

You can choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions when connecting with a therapist online. In addition, you can use the built-in journal feature on some online therapy apps if you're ready to start a gratitude journal.


A growing body of research suggests that practicing gratitude as a part of your daily life can have many mental, physical, and interpersonal benefits. Anyone of any age can practice gratitude, and there are several ways to do so. Consider contacting a therapist if you'd like to learn more about gratitude or mental health.
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