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On this day of Thanksgiving, people around the United States are expressing gratitude for the bounty of their lives, but many may not realize that in doing so, they are also improving the quality of their health and increasing their life expectancies.

The scientific evidence is conclusive when it comes to mood, outlook, and health. Happy people live 7-10 years longer than unhappy people, and optimistic people have a 77% lower risk of heart disease than pessimistic people. But how can you become happier and more optimistic in your world view?

The How Of Happiness

In Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How Of Happiness, the author teaches us how 50% of our propensity for happiness is based on a genetic set point, something we can’t influence very much, 10% is based on life circumstances (such as getting the promotion, finding The One, or achieving the creative dream), and 40% is “intentional activity” that we can influence with our behavior.

That means we can be up to 40% happier in our lives without changing our circumstances one bit, and one of the key intentional activities is the practice of gratitude.

Research shows that consistently grateful people are happier, more energetic, more hopeful, more helpful, more empathic, more spiritual, more forgiving, and less materialistic. They’re also less likely to be depressed, anxious, lonely, envious, neurotic, or sick.

The Evidence

In one study, one group of participants were asked to name five things they’re grateful for every day, while another group was asked to list five hassles. Those expressing gratitude were not only happier and more optimistic, they reported fewer physical symptoms, such as headache, cough, nausea, or acne. Other gratitude studies have shown that those with chronic illnesses demonstrate clinical improvement when practicing regular gratitude.

Severely depressed people instructed to list grateful thoughts on a website daily were found to be significantly less depressed by the end of the study when compared to depressed people who weren’t asked to express gratitude. And we know that depression is a significant risk factor for disease.

For more surprising scientific proof about how to be ultimately healthy, read Mind Over Medicine or watch my public television special Heal Yourself: Mind Over Medicine (check listings here). (Hint: Being generous and radical self care are good for your health, so try giving generously of your time and love this holiday season while also focusing on your own self care!)

How Does Gratitude Boost Happiness?

According to Dr. Lyubomirsky, gratitude:

  • Promotes savoring of positive life experiences
  • Bolsters self-worth and self-esteem
  • Helps people cope with stress and trauma
  • Encourages caring acts and moral behavior
  • Helps build social bonds, strengthen existing relationships, and nurture new relationships (and we know lonely people have twice the rate of heart disease as those with strong social connections)
  • Inhibits harmful comparisons
  • Diminishes or deters negative feelings such as anger, bitterness, and greed
  • Thwarts hedonistic adaptation (the ability to adjust your set point to positive new circumstances so that we don’t appreciate the new circumstance and it has little affect on our overall health or happiness)

How To Practice Gratitude

You don’t have to wait for Thanksgiving to enjoy the benefits to your health and happiness that accompany gratitude.

Keep a gratitude journal.
Ponder 3-5 things you’re currently grateful for (it’s okay if these are mundane things!) and write them down. Data suggests that doing this once per week may be most beneficial, but if you find that doing it daily works best for you, go for it!

Cultivate An Attitude of Gratitude.
Journaling may not be your cup of tea, so you might be better off just training yourself to think grateful thoughts. Try noticing one ungrateful thought you have each day and switching it around to something you can be grateful for.

Vary Your Gratitude Practice.
Try journaling sometimes, thinking grateful thoughts, speaking what you’re grateful for at dinner time, making art about what you’re grateful for, but shake it up! We tend to get bored easily, so the practice of gratitude works better when we change how we’re grateful.

Express Gratitude Directly To Others.
Call a friend, write a letter, share your grateful thoughts with family members, or speak to a colleague at work about what you’re grateful for.

What Are You Thankful For?

Share your gratitude here in the comments. And thank you for caring what I write about. I’m super grateful for you!

With gratitude,

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  1. I am grateful for Inner Pilot Light emails! 🙂

  2. Perfect post for Thanksgiving – and an excellent reminder for any day of the year. Thank you, Lissa, for this and for all you bring to us. I recommend your book to friends on a regular basis and drop it into a lot of conversations.

  3. What am I grateful for? So much I hardly know where to start: for the blessings of greatly improved health (compared to many years ago), for my family, for friends who get me when family doesn’t, for having a job (still), for having reliable transportation, for my faith (both my religious expression and faith in myself), for daily inspiration, and so many other things ….. if I continued I wouldn’t know where to stop. I am so beyond blessed that I am overwhelmed by the riches in my life. I may not have a lot materially or a bank balance that reflects it, but I’ve got everything I need and a lot of what I want in life. Thank you.

  4. I’m grateful for so much! My health, the beautiful people I work with, my salary and my home. So much to look forward to in the future that I’m waiting to be grateful for!
    Keep up the good work Lissa!
    Lise x

  5. I am grateful for all of the wisdom that you share with us, Lissa! Wishing you and your family a wonderful holiday season. -Mindy

  6. I make a point of every night in bed just before falling asleep, thinking of all the good things that came out of the day, acknowledging and appreciating them. There’s always something, even on the worst days.

  7. I am grateful for my life and that I am fully alive I am grateful I found you and read your book such an inspiration. I know the power of gratitude to heal as i used it after a NDE 2 years ago. Thanks for your inner pilot. Happy Thanksgiving 🙂 ♡

  8. I am so grateful for the gift of life having been given a kidney transplant two years ago after three and a half years on dialysis. I thank God every day and think of my donor and her family. Whenever I’m down I remember how difficult life used to be.

  9. I am grateful for my gratitude practice as the more I do it on a daily and consistent basis I see such beautiful growth and blessings. Thank you for sharing the evidence with us as this makes those in healthcare more likely to listen up! I’m also always grateful to come by and read your blog which leaves me feeling uplifted and inspired!

  10. I am grateful for your book and your words coming into my life. I am grateful for you writting it. Thank you for daring. You are an example to follow! Blessings

  11. As a sixty-one year old athlete and mother of two twenty-something children, who has high cholesterol (genetic), had recent knee surgery, is recovering from onset of Bell’s Palsy (two years ago), I am grateful for my GREAT health, family, and friends!

  12. I’m grateful for your writings and particularly for the past life regression post. Privately – waaay too many things to list on my gratitude list. The practice completely changed my inner life.

  13. I loved this, as I Iove all of your posts. Thank you. 🙂

    It’s unusual for me to read one of your posts and have a question afterwards. But this time I did. It’s not so much on what you said as what Sonja claims. I question how true it really is that 50% of our propensity for happiness is based on a genetic set point. With all the research in Epi-genetics (Bruce Lipton’s work among others) and neuroplasticity (as described in Norman Doige’s book “The Brain that Changes Itself”), I question that. It feels like Sonja is saying that we are very limited by our genetics. Also, if you look at this from a spiritual perspective, it also feels limiting. Seems like then no matter what we do to improve our lives and our mental, emotional and physical health, we have control over only 50% of that. It just seems out of alignment with the fact that we are spiritual beings, sparks of the divine and therefore unlimited in our potential. So just wondering how she came to that number and if what she wrote took into consideration the new evidence in neuroscience and epi-genetics that suggests we can literally change our genetics with our thoughts and experiences, change our brains and therefore our mental, physical and emotional states? Just food for thought.


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