The Science of Gratitude

Patrick Riley
4 min readNov 25, 2020

I’m Told To Be Thankful
We’ve all heard that gratitude is the answer to many problems. That being full of gratitude will help you be more resilient and happy, a better boss and partner, and a better human. But I’ve been skeptical when I’ve heard these comments before. So, I want to spend today’s blog asking, “how does being thankful actually help me do these things above?”

But first, some real-life examples of how people are finding gratitude in this difficult season —

The Research Behind Gratitude
There is a surprising amount of scientific research on what consistent gratitude does to our brains and bodies. Here’s some of my favorite research —

First, a primer on gratitude. This white paper defines gratitude as 1) “recognizing that one has obtained a positive outcome” and 2) “recognizing that there is an external source for this positive outcome.” For instance, as the article states, “by attuning people to the thoughtfulness of others, gratitude helps them find or identify people who are good candidates for quality future relationships; it also helps ‘remind’ people of the goodness of their existing relationships; and it ‘binds’ them to their partners and friends by making them feel appreciated and encouraging them to engage in behaviors that will help prolong their relationships.”

Gratitude helps people of all ages avoid materialism. Researchers did an experiment with adolescents who were asked to complete the same four-item gratitude measure and eight-item materialism measure. One group of students kept a gratitude journal, while the other group recorded daily activities. At the end of the study, those who kept a gratitude journal scored higher on the gratitude measure and lower on the materialism measure. Additionally, all students were given $10 for their participation. When given the option to keep or donate the ten $1 bills, the youth who had written about who and what they were thankful for gave away two-thirds of their participation earnings, while those who had recorded daily activities kept more than half of what they earned.

Gratitude can help us through tough times. The linked article says it well — “It is vital to make a distinction between feeling grateful and being grateful. We don’t have total control over our

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Patrick Riley

Helping to give startups the power to create and grow their business wherever they are as CEO of GAN: @GANconnect