Studies Show That Gratitude Is Good for Our Well-Being

In several other articles on this blog, I wrote about gratitude, how people feel gratitude, how they practice gratitude, and how gratitude is beneficial for people, their well-being, and their relationships.

Gratitude and altruistic love are omnipotent across many cultures.

What Is Gratitude?

Your wellbeing will be enhanced by simple acts of giving, receiving, and even observing the gratitude of others. Gratitude is contagious!

Gratitude is a positive feeling that comes up when we realize that we have good things in our lives and that other people have helped us get the good things that we have in life. In the same way, spiritual believers and religious people experience gratitude toward supernatural and God-like powers and authorities that help them in life.

We might feel gratitude when someone is kind to us. Gratitude is the lens through which we see gifts, givers, goodness, and grace in the world. The practice of gratitude has the power to restore, revitalize, and transform people’s lives.

What Studies of Gratitude Show

The American psychologist Robert A. Emmons from the University of California, Davis, has studied the psychology of gratitude for many years.

His research has discovered how experience and expressions of gratitude are beneficial for people and how gratitude improves their psychological well-being. Many other studies have demonstrated various positive social and emotional effects of having a grateful outlook, expressing gratitude to others, and “counting one’s blessings”.

For example, the study of Sara Algoe, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and her colleagues demonstrated how everyday gratitude is capable of boosting romantic relationships.

Benefits of Being Grateful in Our Daily Lives

In many studies, researchers asked people to write thank-you letters or to make a list of the good things in their lives and then measured the effects of those actions.

The findings showed that these kinds of activities are good for our mental health because they help reduce depression and anxiety, boost self-esteem, and make us happier with our daily lives.

Numerous studies have found that expressing gratitude to acquaintances, coworkers, friends, or romantic partners can provide a “boost” to a relationship.

Not only experience and expression of gratitude are beneficial, but also people’s grateful dispositions. Researchers have discovered that those who have a grateful attitude on a daily basis are less depressed and sleep better.

How Being Grateful Help in Difficult Times

Gratitude for what people do for you and what your life has to offer is the best thing you can do. It is especially beneficial during trying times.

Christina Caron told the dramatic life story of how gratitude can help in a difficult time. In 2022, Stacy Batten experienced a series of tragic events in her life:

“Her husband died of cancer, and her father died after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. Her mother was diagnosed with cancer. And she moved across the country from Seattle to Fairfield County, Conn., after selling the home that she had lived in for 26 years.

In her devastation, she noticed that she felt better when she looked for the good parts of each day. So she took a large Mason jar and turned it into a “gratitude jar,” which she now keeps on her night stand.

Every night, she writes down a few things that she is grateful for on a scrap of paper and drops it inside. They are often as simple as “I met a new neighbor” or “I took a walk with the dog and my mom.”

“The grief is still there,” Batten, 56, said. “But writing those daily notes has helped.”

Take Notice of Your Partner’s Being Grateful to You

Gratitude is the best attitude. Love and happiness are closely associated with being grateful. On the other hand, it is so great when your partner notices your being grateful.

Please recall the last time you were thankful for someone. This was most likely because someone did something good for you. You were grateful, and you thanked your partner for doing this for you. Right?

Feeling and expressing gratitude to others are great experiences associated with positive relationship outcomes, including one’s feeling of being happy.

But what happens when your partner in a relationship perceives your gratitude towards them? Do they really see it? Do you see when someone is grateful to you for what you did for them?

How Can I Know that my Partner Sees Me Being Grateful for Him or Her?

First, it is necessary to understand how people perceive each other’s gratitude. And only then can we answer the question and understand whether perceiving a partner’s gratitude also benefits you and the relationship. These perceptions can be accurate or not. Actually, partners may not really notice that their partner is grateful to them. What a bummer, isn’t it?

What might that entail when your partner is grateful? Consider the following relationships: Monica and Chandler, Rachel and Ross, and Phoebe and Joey. If someone asked Monica, Rachel, and Phoebe to rate their partner’s gratitude, what would they say?

They might rate their partner’s gratitude as 7, 8, or 9 on a 10-point scale, respectively.

Then, we need to compare their perceptions of their partner’s gratitude with their partner’s actual gratitude. Right? Only then can we determine whether they are accurate or not and whether they are under- or over-perceiving their partner’s gratitude.

When asked, Chandler, Ross, and Joey might say they are grateful to their partners, rating their gratitude on a scale of 6, 7, and 8, respectively.

Do these women notice their partners’ being grateful? How can we know this?

If each woman underestimated their partner’s gratitude by one point, they were all inaccurate and somewhat biased. The fact that Rachel rated her partner higher than Monica or Phoebe and that this matches the pattern of their partners’ levels of gratitude shows that they were also largely accurate. However, Ross’s actual rating of gratitude was higher than Chandler’s and Joey’s ratings.

The key point here is that partners may underestimate or exaggerate their partner’s gratitude. However, they are still accurate about the relative levels of gratitude of their partners. They are relatively accurate in their perception of their partner’s being grateful.

How Accurate and Biased Are Partners’ Gratitude Perceptions of Each Other?

Hasagani Tissera, the graduate research student at McGill University, collaborated with other researchers working at McGill, York University, and the University of Toronto to explore this question. In two studies, which they administered among 514 couples, they asked each partner in the couple to report on how grateful they are and how grateful they believe their partner is. We also asked how partners are satisfied with their relationships. Researchers administered their survey by asking partners independently of each other.

Then, researchers compared partners’ perceptions of their partners’ gratitude with their partners’ actual gratitude. Surprisingly, they discovered that partners tended to underestimate their partners’ gratitude. Nevertheless, they remained reasonably accurate about it.

Why so?

Why Do Partners Fail to Recognize Others’ Being Grateful?

Obviously, it makes sense. It would be good and important to know how grateful your partner is. This makes them feel satisfied.

What might be less apparent is why people often don’t see how grateful their partner is. Why do partners tend to be biased in a certain way? What does it entail in a relationship?

Thinking that the other person isn’t as grateful as they really are might keep partners from getting too comfortable and push them to keep working on making the relationship better. This is different from thinking their partners are more thankful than they really are. The latter could cause them to put in less effort in the future and put the relationship at risk.

How Biased Gratitude Perceptions Affect Relationship Satisfaction

In fact, a relationship depends on how much a person underestimates their partner’s appreciation. If they are drastically off, it is associated with a less happy relationship. However, a small mistake in the perception of gratitude can make a relationship happier.

If partners do not believe their partners are grateful, despite the fact that they are extremely grateful, this could lead to serious problems in a relationship. The large gaps in partners’ underestimation of gratitude are detrimental to relationship satisfaction. However, a small gap appears to be beneficial.

Gratitude and Love in Cultural Perspective

The grateful attitude and emotions toward other people and life are referred to as gratitude. When we express gratitude for what other people and life have given us, we experience several situational emotions. When we are grateful, thankful, and appreciative to someone for something, we can feel a variety of positive emotions. Gratitude and love commonly go hand in hand and are closely related to each other.

Gratitude and Love in Our Life

As I showed in another article, gratitude and love frequently go together. Not only does the experience of gratitude entail the emotion of love, but love also implies the expression of gratitude.

Love frequently involves expressions of gratitude and appreciation. Love, gratitude, and appreciation are deeply relational feelings that encompass a wide range of dispositions, moods, and situational emotions and feelings. Participants use a variety of methods to express their feelings of love, including loving others, loving oneself, receiving love, and feeling thankful for love.

A Chinese Cultural Perspective on Gratitude and Love

The indigenous Chinese concept of “enqing” means grateful love (Chen & Li, 2007). This type of love includes the feelings of responsibilities and obligations associated with a spouse’s feelings of appreciation, gratitude, and indebtedness for what the partner does for the marriage. The origins of “enqing” are in Chinese relationship orientation and the traditional Confucian value of duty in marriage.

While Western marital intimacy is characterized by feelings of togetherness and compatibility, Chinese marital intimacy is characterized by feelings of admiration and gratitude.

The Chinese Concept of “Enqing”

People in traditional Chinese society typically place little emphasis on marital intimacy. Instead, “enqing”—the expression of gratitude and admiration—may bind Chinese couples closely together.

Many researchers have identified “enqing” as the primary element of Chinese marital affection and love (e.g., Li & Chen, 2002; Tang, 1991; see for a review, Karandashev, 2019). In traditional Chinese marriage, “enqing” plays a central role in marital affection and love. The four pillars of Chinese couples’ love are:

(a) feelings of gratitude,

(b) admiration,

(c) togetherness, and

(d) compatibility

(Chen & Li, 2007).

How Gratitude and Love Develop in Chinese Marriage

Why and how does this kind of grateful love between married people grow?

In traditional Chinese culture, parents frequently arrange marriages. Under these conditions, many people got married without knowing each other well. Moreover, even after they get married, Chinese cultural norms do not consider the intimate relationship between the couple as important. The “enqing“, or expression of gratitude and admiration, develops from conjugal love and role fulfillment. That is what keeps Chinese couples together and close.

People experience intimacy more frequently in modern Taiwanese (Chinese) marriages than ever before. However, the presence of “enqing” remains. Modern Western ideas about love have an effect on Chinese marriages. Nevertheless, the traditional Chinese idea of “enqing” has not gone away (Li & Chen, 2002).

How the Expression of Gratitude Differs in Chinese and American Cultures

A series of cross-cultural studies examined the impact of verbal and nonverbal expressions of appreciation on the quality of romantic relationships in “high-context, collectivistic cultures and low-context, individualistic cultures” (Bello et al., 2010, p. 294).

The authors discovered that in cultures such as the United States and China, appreciation takes different forms and plays different roles in relationships. Participants from both countries listed specific ways they express gratitude in a romantic relationship.

The results show that Chinese participants prefer nonverbal expressions of appreciation over verbal ones, while American participants favor both verbal and nonverbal ones.

Overall, data showed that Americans use significantly more frequent expressions of gratitude in love than Chinese people. This is mostly due to the extensive use of verbal expressions in the United States. Chinese people, on the other hand, use more indirect ways to express gratitude in love than Americans see for a review, Karandashev, 2019).

Emotions Associated With Gratitude

We can characterize gratitude as the grateful attitudes toward other people and life. Gratitude also involves several situational emotions when we experience gratitude for what other people and life give to us. We can experience several positive emotions when we are grateful, thankful, and appreciative to someone for something.

What Is the Lived Experience of Gratitude?

Researchers from Sofia University in California, USA, Patty Hlava and John Elfers conducted a qualitative study to investigate the ways in which individuals experience gratitude throughout their lives. The authors also investigated the advantages of practicing and expressing gratitude, both for relationships with others and personal emotions. What does it mean for people to be grateful for their lives, and how do they feel gratitude in their somatic feelings? How does gratitude benefit our relationships, and how does it change our relationships with others?

How Emotional Is the Lived Experience of Gratitude?

In this qualitative study, the authors explored the individual narratives of the lived emotional experience of gratitude. Some descriptions identified the feelings elicited by a specific event. The other descriptions identified the generalized descriptions that people reminisce over in a wide range of examples (Hlava & Elfers, 2014).

The Gratitude Emotions of Acceptance, Comfort, and Security

Many participants in their narratives expressed emotions of acceptance of themselves and of the world associated with a sense of rightness or completeness. They also described feelings of comfort and security.

I can just be in the world and not in conflict with it. (Jennifer)

Yeah, I felt real grounded, and centered, and refreshed. (Mimi)

There is this thread of deep contentment that runs like an underground river through everything. (Albert)

I’m grateful because there’s that unconditional love and that safety and security, which makes me feel strong and powerful. (Melanie)

(Hlava & Elfers, 2014, p. 447).

The Gratitude Emotions of Being Blessed

Participants described the feelings of being fortunate, lucky, and blessed as a common theme. It was a sense of personal worth and the value of the self in relation to others. This experience of gratitude, however, was not associated with feelings of guilt or indebtedness for the benefit.

Some participants recognized their responsibility to give back in response to the gift. They feel a desire to act on that responsibility.

A sense of being blessed and of savoring every little moment. (Sue)

I don’t know if I’m going to be able to be worthy of their faith in me. (Louise)

I just remember feeling so overwhelmed with feeling blessed and feeling just joyful, feeling just fortunate. (Betty) I get really excited, and I literally feel giddy. Then I feel lucky, and then I feel humbled. Then I feel like I should share it. (Melanie)

(Hlava & Elfers, 2014, p. 447).

The Gratitude Emotions of Joy

Participants described the positive emotion-experience of gratitude in terms of the pleasant sensations of euphoria, joy, and happiness.

A wonderful state of euphoria; pleasurable sensations, both mental and physical; happiness of memories. (Doris)

I was smiling, on top of my feeling a sense of joy in my face, and then a welling up in my eyes. (Betty)

I feel lighter and definitely happier. Gratitude is like sunshine. (Sarita) Then I was just really happy. I thought I was like Disneyland happy. (Link)

(Hlava & Elfers, 2014, p. 447).

The Gratitude Emotions of Love

The experience of love frequently expresses gratitude. Both love and gratitude are highly relational emotions, and both embody a broad affective range of feelings and contexts. Participants expressed the sentiments of love in a variety of ways, such as by loving another, loving oneself, being loved, and feeling grateful for being loved. The sentiments of love were also felt as being accepted, supported, protected, and understood.

Overwhelming love, I would say. In love with them, and feeling loved by them. (Betty)

I feel love. (pause) It’s kind of funny; because I think love and gratitude are almost like twins. You don’t have to love someone you’re grateful to, but it certainly seems to enhance gratitude and a lot of times if I’m grateful, really, I’m feeling loved. (Nancy)

How grateful I was to have been involved and been a part of such a wonderful and loving family. I really was overcome with just a feeling of gratefulness and almost to the point where it brought me to tears. (Lou)

(Hlava & Elfers, 2014, p. 448).

How People Feel Gratitude

Being grateful makes our relationships with other people stronger. When people feel grateful, the way they feel grateful and the emotions that accompany this experience strengthen their sense of belonging to the group and their connectedness with others.

What Is Gratitude?

Gratitude is a set of dispositions and emotions characterized by being thankful and appreciative for what other people and life give to us. There are many things for which we may be grateful.

Gratitude is daily and widely involved in our interpersonal communication and relationships. Clearly, gratitude plays a crucial role in interpersonal relationships. An essential component of practicing gratitude is recognizing and appreciating the people around us and the things they do for us.

Gratitude is an essential component of romantic and companionate relationships. In some respects, gratitude is the feeling of being thankful for what another person has done or continues to do for us.

Being thankful makes us feel better, both physically and mentally. It makes our lives and relationships better in many ways. Some people tend to be grateful more frequently than others. How does their experience of being grateful reflect on their emotional experience and feelings? How do grateful individuals feel gratitude?

A Study of the Lived Experience of Gratitude

Patty Hlava and John Elfers, researchers at Sofia University in California, conducted a qualitative study exploring how people feel gratitude in their lives. They also examined the benefits of experiencing and expressing gratitude. What is the meaning of gratitude for their lives, relationships, and emotions?

How Emotionally Do Grateful People Feel Gratitude?

Being grateful is an emotional experience characterized by varying intensity. People experience gratitude with subjective feelings that can range from low intensity to overwhelming.

Many participants of the study reported their feelings of tearfulness and overwhelming emotion—the sense of taking the breath away, of bursting with feeling, or of fullness. Men and women described the range of emotional responses to gratitude, from mild feelings of appreciation to the sensations of upwelling tearfulness. The tears, however, were not from sadness. Some admitted that the power of the emotion made them silent, uncomfortable, and embarrassed.

Participants commonly feel gratitude, describing it with positive emotions such as joy, release, love, peace, security, and happiness.

Some examples of quotes from participants are:

I start tearing because I’m so—it’s an overwhelming emotion. It’s an overflowing with joy kind of feeling. (Joe)

My eyes fill with tears, but I do not feel sadness. I feel at a loss for words and am filled with gratitude and love. (Zoe)

I just burst into tears, and I was crying, I mean, in addition to just the positive feelings of just gratitude and excitement. (Louise)

(Hlava & Elfers, 2014, p. 444).

Somatic Experiences in the Heart and Chest

These are the sensations of warmth and the feeling that the chest and heart are expanding. It is often described as fullness, swelling, or lightness. Participants often described the feelings in their hearts as softening or melting into something larger. The feeling of the breath was light and expansive.

The feelings in the heart and chest are sometimes identified as the “core” and central feelings of people’s gratitude. Several quotes from the participants include:

I noticed a fullness in my chest like my heart is bursting, and it’s full. Not an uncomfortable feeling, like a warm feeling, almost like love but not as localized or something. It’s less concentrated. It’s just a bigger feeling. (Allison)

A slow dawning, more of a warm feeling inside of you rather than something that suddenly catches you by surprise. (Louise)

[The heart sensation] is not flat. It has dimension. That is why I feel it is the core. (Sophie)

(Hlava & Elfers, 2014, p. 445).

The sensation of warmth is another feature of how people somatically feel gratitude. Participants frequently indicated the feelings in their upper and middle backs. They also experienced the rush and flush of warmth in the abdomen, the skin, the face, the throat, and the feeling of warmth and flushing in the entire body. These warm feelings in the chest are commonly associated with sensations of elevation.

The Somatic and Psychological Feeling of Release

The way people feel gratitude is commonly associated with somatic and psychological feelings of release. They frequently described these feelings as letting go, a feeling of lightness, a weight lifted, liberation, and freedom.

I had, for lack of a better term, a long internal sigh. I was so relieved. (Link)

I just feel so relieved, just like something left my body. (Aneska)

It was like I had a huge weight lifted off of me. (Cait)

I remember being released. I was completely and utterly free. (Herbie)

(Hlava & Elfers, 2014, p. 446).

Participants describe these feelings as a deeply somatic experience in terms of shoulders relaxing, a reduction in stress levels, a lighter, bouncier step, and a weight lifted off.

How Gratitude Changes Our Relationships

Social bonding entails reciprocal giving and receiving. These actions are essential for the proper formation of obligations between individuals and the maintenance of interpersonal relationships within human communities.

Because of this, gratitude clearly plays a vital role in interpersonal relationships. Recognizing and appreciating the people around us and the things they do for us is an essential component of practicing gratitude. Being grateful improves both our physical and mental well-being. It has a multiplicity of positive effects on our lives and on the relationships we maintain.

Due to gratitude, people feel several transformations in their relationships: personal, interpersonal, and transpersonal. They feel connected with

  • (1) a part of oneself,
  • (2) an individual or group, or
  • (3) something outside oneself.

(Hlava & Elfers, 2014, p. 439).

The Sense of Personal Self Within a Relationship

Here are some examples of quotes:

It is a connection with myself, connection with nature, feeling comfortable in my own skin. (Gwen)

I do think it’s—I think it’s—it is almost—it is kind of a Zen experience in a very active way. But, yeah, I definitely feel connection and at peace with myself. (Ramona)

(Hlava & Elfers, 2014, p. 440).

The Sense of Connection with Another Individual, a Group, a Family, or a Community

On a deeper level, it is a sense of belonging to another individual, a group, a family, or a community. Here are some examples of quotes:

It’s those grand gestures [of gratitude] that sort of remind you of what you have: wow, that person really is there, and is connected, and is—so it sort of supports the daily sense of gratitude and reinforces it. (Sally)

I feel like a light feeling, and it’s a great feeling of just the love of my family, almost—kind of like sharing, that gratefulness that I’m feeling, it’s almost like it’s coming back at me, and it just puts a smile on my face and a feeling of satisfaction. (Lou)

Yeah, overwhelmed and probably, well, grateful that they’re there because who else would celebrate with me right now when I didn’t know I needed to celebrate. They knew what I needed before I knew that I needed it, and I was really grateful for that. (Roxy)

(Hlava & Elfers, 2014, p. 440).

The Sense of Connection with Something Larger or Beyond the Self

This sense of connection includes an awareness of something larger or beyond the self. This sense also engages an experience of awe. Here are some examples of quotes:

But I guess it would be some form of a spiritual connection, just a very direct, very personal connection with nature, with the ocean in particular, just being in the water. But it’s more of an experience of bliss or being at peace with the environment and of just feeling full. (Luis)

I think when I’m in those moments [of gratitude], there’s a sense of connection to something greater than me, whatever that is, I’m not even sure. I mean sometimes I call it “God” or “Higher Power,” and I think that’s part of what the sense of wellbeing and relaxation is, is the sense that everything is okay just as it is. I’m a part of that; I’m not separate from that. (Allison)

It really was a feeling of—like I had a connection, some connection outside of myself, and it’s a wonderful feeling. (Lou)

Well, nature provides me with a sense of the oneness or the connection of all things being connected. So when I am in nature, I am connected, maybe I’m alone but I’m not lonely. (Sue)

(Hlava & Elfers, 2014, p. 440-441).

How Gratitude Benefits Our Relationships

Gratitude benefits are culturally normative in all major cultures, which encourage people to be grateful and express their gratitude to others. The cultural norms of gratitude have been highly valued across civilizations and cultures. In the ritual of “giving thanks,” people expressed their gratitude to God, spirits, mother nature, and others.

Interpersonal relationships commonly involve the experience and expression of gratitude. Gratitude entails more than simply saying “thank you.” It entails acknowledging and appreciating others and what they do for us. Gratitude is the thankful love—the love for what another person did or does for us. Gratitude is an important constituent of love.

Gratitude strengthens our connections with others. When individuals experience gratitude, these emotions strengthen their sense of belonging to and connectedness with others. They feel fewer boundaries between themselves and others. In another article, I explained what gratitude is and why it is important for our lives and well-being.

Gratitude Benefits Make Our Relationships Better

Social bonding entails giving and receiving on both sides. These actions are essential for the proper formation of obligations between individuals and the maintenance of interpersonal bonds within human communities.

Gratitude involves social obligations as well as personal benefits for our relationships, self-esteem, and wellbeing. Feeling and expressing gratitude improves our mood and makes us feel better. In many ways, it improves our lives and interpersonal relationships.

A Study of Gratitude Revealed:

The recent qualitative study by the researchers from Sofia University in California, Patty Hlava and John Elfers, explored how people experience the meaning of gratitude in their lives and what positive changes they get when they experience and express gratitude. In particular, they found that

Gratitude Strengthens our Connections with Others

When people experience gratitude, these emotions enhance their feelings of connectedness with others. They feel that their boundaries with another person have become shorter and softer. A range of their feelings involves the sensation of being physically close, not separate or alone. They get a sense of community, enjoy deep communication, and have the feeling of merging with something larger than themselves.

Here are the examples that authors provide to illustrate these feelings:

That feeling of being enveloped, or embraced, or being touched. It’s like they just know you, like they’ve been there forever, and you’ve been with them forever. (Goldie)

It’s more a sense of feeling connected to people, not that they’re giving me something, a material object but that they’re giving me a part of their heart or something. (Allison)

It was a sense of connectedness. I felt that even sort of our heartbeats sort of synced, just a oneness about the whole situation. (Sue)

(Hlava & Elfers, 2014, p. 438).

By experiencing and cultivating the attitudes, feelings, and expression of gratitude, people experience transformation in their personal, interpersonal, and transpersonal relationships. They experience a sense of belonging to a group, community, or something else outside themselves.

How People Experience the Meaning of Gratitude

Reciprocal giving and receiving have the adaptive function of creating interpersonal obligations and maintaining personal bonding between people. In another place, I talked more about what gratitude is and why it is important in our lives. However, the meaning of gratitude can be different for different people. For example,

“Beneath the warm feelings of gratitude resides an imperative force, a force that compels us to return the benefit we have received”

(Komter, 2004, p. 195).

What Is the Meaning of Gratitude?

Gratitude is a personal experience that people live by in their daily social lives. It plays a functional role within the dynamics of interpersonal relationships. The concept of gratitude is quite broad and includes cognitive, affective, expressive, and behavioral processes.

What People Experience When They Experience Gratitude

Patty Hlava and John Elfers, the researchers from Sofia University in Palo Alto, California, USA, conducted a qualitative study of how people experience gratitude.

The authors interviewed 51 participants, ranging in age from 18 to 80 years, who likely engaged in a full range of embodied experiences of gratitude. The sample was ethnically diverse, with a first language other than English. Among participants, the majority were Caucasians, with less representation of Middle Eastern, Eastern European, Hispanic, African American, and other groups.

Researchers asked participants to recall a specific experience of gratitude. They asked to focus on their physiological and somatic experiences during these feelings. Researcher asked:

  • “In what way does the feeling of gratitude show up in your body?
  • Where specifically do you experience the sensations?”
(Hlava & Elfers, 2014, p. 438).

Researchers asked people to think about their lived experience of gratitude, developmental history, personality orientation, and how they thought gratitude affected their relationships.

The study revealed patterns of emotions that include somatic experiences and cognitive appraisals. Among those are the feelings of love, joy, awakening, awe, release, and being blessed.

What People Experience When They Experience Gratitude

Researchers revealed in their study several specific features of the somatic experience of gratitude. These include:

  • Sensations in the Heart and Chest/Warmth
  • Release
  • Awakening
  • Comfort, Security, Acceptance
  • Blessed
  • Joy
  • Love
  • Witnessed
  • Presence
  • Thankful

Why Is Gratitude Important?

Gratitude is more than just saying “thank you.” It entails recognizing and appreciating the people and what they do for us. It is the appreciation for whatever our lives bring us. Gratitude makes us feel better and lifts our mood. It improves our lives and relationships in many regards.

As Buddha, the religious teacher of South Asian culture (the 6th or 5th century BCE) and founder of Buddhism, taught,

“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.”

 Buddha, the teacher and founder of Buddhism, a religious and philosophical system of southern and eastern Asia, live in India, approximately the 6th–4th century BCE

National Cultural Traditions of Gratitude

The customs of gratitude appear to be highly valued across civilizations and cultures. People expressed their appreciation in the ritual of “giving thanks” to God, spirits, mother nature, and others.

People of many societies in history and nowadays celebrate Thanksgiving or similar festival holidays on various dates. It is a good cultural custom to give thanks and appreciate what we get and what others give to us.

As William Bennett, an American politician and commentator, told

“Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that thankfulness is indeed a virtue.”

William Bennett, American teacher and scholar, born 1943, New York, USA

American Thanksgiving is probably among the most important holidays of the year. Americans have greatly celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday for centuries.

As John F. Kennedy, an American politician and the 35th president of the United States, once said,

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.”

John F. Kennedy, (1917–1963), American political leader and president of the United States

Or in another place, he said:

“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.”

– John F. Kennedy

Even though it falls on different dates, people in other countries also celebrate this Thanksgiving holiday. Among those countries are Canada, Grenada, Liberia, and Saint Lucia. Germany and Japan both celebrate festivals with names that are very similar.

Gratitude Is the Appreciation of Giving and Receiving

In many cases, gratitude is clearly involved in interpersonal relationships. Social bonding implies reciprocal giving and receiving. These kinds of actions are important for the proper creation of people’s obligations and the maintenance of interpersonal bonding in human communities.

An appreciation of giving and receiving is a vital part of fair and equitable relationships. This is why it is very important to express gratitude for what other people do for us. Gratitude is not only a kind gesture; it is frequently necessary for a normal and adequate relationship.

As Aafke E. Komter, a professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, wrote,

“Beneath the warm feelings of gratitude resides an imperative force, a force that compels us to return the benefit we have received”

(Komter, 2004, p. 195).

How People Experience Gratitude

How do people subjectively experience gratitude? The intensity and expression of gratitude are determined by an appraisal of the situations, actions, contexts, and outcomes of what a benefactor did for a recipient. People may express gratitude differently depending on how they perceive the value of what another person has done for them. Appreciation also varies depending on the benefactor’s intention and the degree of sacrifice applied in giving (McCullough & Tsang, 2004). People tend to be especially grateful and express gratitude when they receive something they want and when they feel that the giver was sensitive to their personal needs and wishes. (Algoe, Haidt, & Gable, 2008).

As an American writer and humorist, Mark Twain (1835–1910) once noted,

“The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer someone else up.”

Mark Twain, 1835–1910), American writer

People experience gratitude as thematic patterns of somatic feelings and an array of appraisals. The experience of gratitude also involves various emotions, such as joy, love, awe, happiness, awakening, release, peace, security, and feeling blessed. People frequently experience the somatic response to gratitude, the feelings of overwhelming emotions, and tearfulness. These emotions are frequently accompanied by a sense of taking your breath away, bursting with emotion, and fullness (Hlava & Elfers, 2014). 

These feelings and emotions are associated with sensations of being emotionally overwhelmed. Here are some examples:

“I start tearing because I’m so—it’s an overwhelming emotion. It’s an overflowing with joy kind of feeling.”


“My eyes fill with tears, but I do not feel sadness. I feel at a loss for words and am filled with gratitude and love.”


“I just burst into tears, and I was crying, I mean, in addition to just the positive feelings of just gratitude and excitement.”


How Gratitude Affects Our Relationships

Gratitude is very beneficial for our relationships and can transform interpersonal connections.

Expression of gratitude plays an important role in relationship building (Algoe et al., 2008) and relationship maintenance (Hlava, 2010; Kubacka, Finkenauer, Rusbult, & Keijsers, 2011). Gratitude affects the experience of relationship boundaries between “self” and “other” (Hlava & Elfers, 2014). The expression and feeling of gratitude strengthen our bonds with those who have helped us (Algoe & Haidt, 2009).

Please, remember this saying of William James (1842–1910), an American philosopher and psychologist:

“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”

William James (1842–1910), American psychologist and philosopher

Happy Thanksgiving!