Science uncovers the secret to feeling happier, healthier, and more energetic.

By Jessica Smith
December 20, 2011

It's easy to focus on all the things you want to own, create, or experience, but research shows that appreciating what you already have may be the key to living a healthier, happier life. And you can't argue with science. Here are five ways that feeling grateful can improve your health:

1. Gratitude can boost your level of life satisfaction.

Want to feel happier? Write a thank you note! According to research done by Steve Toepfer, assistant professor in Human Development and Family Studies at Kent State University at Salem, increasing your level of life satisfaction may be as easy as writing a letter of gratitude. Toepfer asked subjects to write a meaningful letter of gratitude to anyone they wanted. The more letters people wrote, the less they reported feeling symptoms of depression, and they noted feeling happier and more satisfied with life overall. "If you are looking to increase your wellbeing through intentional activities, take 15 minutes three times over three weeks and write letters of gratitude to someone," Toepfer says. "There is a cumulative effect, too. If you write over time, you'll feel happier, you'll feel more satisfied, and if you're suffering from depressive symptoms, your symptoms will decrease."

2. Gratitude can strengthen your relationship.

It's easy to focus on all the things your partner isn't doing-taking out the trash, picking up their dirty clothes-but a 2010 study published in the journal Personal Relationships found that taking the time to focus on the positive gestures your partner makes can help you feel more connected and satisfied in your relationship. Just taking a few minutes every day to tell your partner one thing you appreciate about them can go a long way towards strengtheneing your bond.

3. Gratitude can improve your mental health and vitality.

Feeling grateful can positively influence your wellbeing and quality of life, according to a 2007 study done by researchers at the University of California - Davis. Subjects (all of whom were organ recipients) were divided into two groups. One group kept routine daily notes about medication side-effects, how they felt about life overall, how connected they were to others, and how they felt about the upcoming day. The other group answered the same questions but were also asked to list five things or people they were grateful for each day and why. At the end of 21 days, the ‘gratitude group' had improved their mental health and wellbeing scores, while the scores in the control group declined. The researchers say feelings of gratitude may act as a ‘buffer' from the challenges that a chronic medical condition can create.

The lesson? Despite the challenges you may be facing, whether it's a medical condition, job stress, or weight-loss challenges, taking time to recognize what you're grateful for (whether it's in a journal or simply consciously noting it) can help you maintain a positive outlook and boost your energy levels.

4. Expressing gratitude can help you sleep better.

Researchers at the University of Manchester in England studied more than 400 subjects (40 percent of which had sleep disorders) and found that those who felt more grateful also reported more positive thoughts and feelings, which allowed them to fall asleep faster and improved their overall quality of sleep. The research suggests that taking just a few minutes before bed to write down or say aloud a few things you're grateful for might help you fall into a deep slumber.

5. Gratitude can help you stick with your workout routine.

Gratitude may just be the inspiration you need to stick with your gym routine. Exercising regularly was just one of the additional benefits reported by the subjects in the University of California - Davis study. If feeling grateful can boost your energy level and happiness, help you get a great night's sleep, and improve your relationship, it's no surprise it can help you stick with your workout program, too!