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Do Gratitude Journals Really Work? 4 New Gratitude Findings

Recent research highlights the when, how, and why of gratitude.

Nick Youngson/ImageCreator
Do gratitude journals really work?
Source: Nick Youngson/ImageCreator

Researchers have only been rigorously studying gratitude for the past few decades and it's only in the past few years that the benefits of gratitude have really gained attention. From helping people hold onto their relationships to boosting well-being, research suggests gratitude may play an important role in helping us thrive. Here are four recent findings that teach us a little more about the how and why of gratitude:

  1. Writing about your gratitude really is good for you—Using randomized controlled trial designs, researchers in two different groups found that people who kept gratitude journals or wrote gratitude letters to people they had never properly thanked reported feeling happier and had significantly better health than those in the other treatment groups.
  2. Gratitude may act as a stress buffer—By sampling people repeatedly across days, researchers found that people have lower well-being on days when they feel more stressed and worried than usual. But gratitude might help alleviate that negative effect: If people felt more grateful, even when they were feeling stressed and worried, their well-being didn’t take as big of a hit. Another study found that Korean firefighters who were more grateful reported feeling less stressed and burnt-out by their jobs.
  3. Gratitude may keep you healthy—Researchers tracked 152 patients who had had a recent medical episode (acute coronary syndrome). Those who felt more grateful for their health two weeks after the episode was more physical activity and reported adhering to their medical plan six months later. Gratitude didn’t predict who was re-hospitalized.
  4. We’re most grateful when we get the help we ask for—Jumping in to help someone who looks like they need it might seem like a good idea, but two studies examined how grateful people are when they receive help they asked for (reactive helping) versus when they receive help they didn’t ask for (proactive helping). Helpers felt more appreciated when they gave help after being asked than when they gave help without being asked. This is partly because reactive helping is more clearly defined—the person asks for what they need. This doesn’t mean you should avoid helping someone who is struggling, but perhaps asking “do you need help?” or “How can I help you?”


Lee, H. W., Bradburn, J., Johnson, R. E., Lin, S. H. J., & Chang, C. H. D. (2019). The benefits of receiving gratitude for helpers: A daily investigation of proactive and reactive helping at work. Journal of Applied Psychology, 104(2), 197.

Lee, J. Y., Kim, S. Y., Bae, K. Y., Kim, J. M., Shin, I. S., Yoon, J. S., & Kim, S. W. (2018). The association of gratitude with perceived stress and burnout among male firefighters in Korea. Personality and Individual Differences, 123, 205-208.

Legler, S. R., Beale, E. E., Celano, C. M., Beach, S. R., Healy, B. C., & Huffman, J. C. (2018). State gratitude for one’s life and health after an acute coronary syndrome: Prospective associations with physical activity, medical adherence and re-hospitalizations. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1-9.

Nezlek, J. B., Krejtz, I., Rusanowska, M., & Holas, P. (2018). Within-person relationships among daily gratitude, well-being, stress, and positive experiences. Journal of Happiness Studies, 1-16.

O’Connell, B. H., O’Shea, D., & Gallagher, S. (2018). Examining psychosocial pathways underlying gratitude interventions: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Happiness Studies, 19(8), 2421-2444.

Wong, Y. J., Owen, J., Gabana, N. T., Brown, J. W., McInnis, S., Toth, P., & Gilman, L. (2018). Does gratitude writing improve the mental health of psychotherapy clients? Evidence from a randomized controlled trial. Psychotherapy Research, 28(2), 192-202.

More from Amie M. Gordon, Ph.D.
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