4 Unexpected Benefits of Gratitude
From chores to bank accounts to sleep, the benefits of gratitude are widespread.
Posted November 12, 2015
As more researchers turn their attention to gratitude, we are learning about the widespread and sometimes surprising benefits of having a more grateful outlook. Here are four findings that suggest gratitude might play a role in how we clean, sleep, and save money.
1. A little gratitude might make your partner want to do their chores.
We all want to feel appreciated for the work we do, especially those tedious and mundane household chores. But one set of studies shows that feeling appreciated might actually transform those chores from something you have to do to something you want to do.1 The more people felt appreciated by their partners for the chores they did, the more they reported wanting to do them and liking doing them. Most surprising, while people tended to be less satisfied with their relationships if they did a lot of chores, this effect went away completely for people who felt appreciated for the chores they did. In one study, people who felt appreciated for their efforts actually reported being more satisfied the more favors they did for their romantic partners. These results were correlational, so we can’t infer that expressing gratitude to your partner will make them suddenly want to do their chores, but it’s worth a shot! If you can express some genuine gratitude the next time your partner takes out the trash, you might just see them doing it more willingly and more often in the future.
2. A little gratitude might help you sleep better.
If there is one cure-all for many of life’s physical, social, and mental ailments, it might simply be getting enough sleep. Except that it’s never that simple. But some research shows that people who are more grateful sleep better and longer and are less tired during the day.2 Why do they seem to be better at catching their zzz’s? Grateful people tend to think about more positive things, such as the enjoyable things they did that day, and less negative things, such as the bad things going on in the world, as they fall asleep (their “pre-sleep cognitions”). Following up on these findings, a recent study found that a gratitude intervention was effective at boosting sleep quality.3 People who expressed gratitude in writing six times over two weeks (compared to active control and no treatment conditions) reported sleeping better the week after the intervention relative to the week before the intervention more so than people in the other two conditions. This research has been done in healthy samples, so we don’t know if gratitude can help cure serious sleep issues, but these findings suggest a little gratitude before bed could help set the mood for a better night of sleep.
3. A little gratitude might help you pay off your debts.
Would you rather have $50 today or $75 in a month? Researchers ask this question to figure out how much people engage in a phenomenon called “time discounting”. Time (or temporal) discounting refers to the tendency we have to discount the value of rewards as they move farther away from us. So although we should prefer $75 next month to $50 today given that $75 is more than $50, many people would take the money now, seeing the $75 as worth less if they have to wait a month to get it. Most people have a tendency to engage in time discounting to a degree. However, some people do it less than others, and these differences have real consequences. For example, people who discount less have higher credit scores, suggesting they are better at paying off debts. So where does gratitude come in? Recent research shows that people who are induced to feel gratitude in the lab engage in less financial time discounting than those in a control condition—they say they’ll take more money later, a strategy that could be important for long-term financial success.4
4. A little gratitude might help you avoid the Black Friday shopping frenzy this Thanksgiving.
An abundance of research shows that being materialistic—money-oriented and focused on material goods—has many negative consequences. However, this desire to have ALL THE THINGS is hard to combat in our consumerist society, especially as social media hounds us with photos of beautiful material possessions that seem to be making everyone else so happy. But gratitude might be one antidote to materialistic tendencies. People who are more grateful tend to be less materialistic, and in one lab study, people who were induced to feel gratitude (versus envy) became more satisfied with life and less focused on material possessions.5,6
An aside—As I was writing this article, I started to think about how funny it is that Thanksgiving, a holiday focused on gratitude, kicks off the busiest shopping season of the year. Of course, this is a shopping season focused on buying gifts for others, which tend to bring us more joy and satisfaction than buying gifts for ourselves. Still, if you want a gift that will bring more gratitude and joy for both you and the recipient, try buying them something that is an experience rather than a material good. And focusing on the true spirit of Thanksgiving might help you resist the urge to buy yourself those new boots or phone you’ve been hankering after but know you don’t need.
1. Berger, A. R., & Janoff-Bulman, R. (2006). Costs and satisfaction in close relationships: The role of loss-gain framing. Personal Relationships, 13(1), 53.
2. Wood, A. M., Joseph, S., Lloyd, J., & Atkins, S. (2009). Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions. Journal of psychosomatic research, 66(1), 43-48.
3. Jackowska, M., Brown, J., Ronaldson, A., & Steptoe, A. (2015). The impact of a brief gratitude intervention on subjective well-being, biology and sleep. Journal of health psychology, 1359105315572455.
4. DeSteno, D., Li, Y., Dickens, L., & Lerner, J. S. (2014). Gratitude A Tool for Reducing Economic Impatience. Psychological science, 0956797614529979.
5. Polak, E. L., & McCullough, M. E. (2006). Is gratitude an alternative to materialism?. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7(3), 343-360.
6. Lambert, N. M., Fincham, F. D., Stillman, T. F., & Dean, L. R. (2009). More gratitude, less materialism: The mediating role of life satisfaction. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(1), 32-42.