"When people consciously practice grateful living, their happiness will go up and their ability to withstand negative events will improve as does their immunity to anger, envy, resentment and depression," says UC Davis sociologist Robert Emmons, who has been studying what makes people happy for nearly 20 years. Rather than objective life circumstances, individual happiness is a function of outlook and perception, according to Emmons.
Emmons published his findings in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in February regarding a number of experiments he has conducted over the past four years.
In experiments that used college students, subjects kept a diary: Some recorded how they felt grateful, while others listed life hassles or neutral life events.
The gratitude group experienced fewer symptoms of physical illness than those in the other groups. Emmons also found that people in the gratitude group spent significantly more time exercising and were more likely to report having offered emotional support to others.
In another study focusing on people with either congenital or adult-onset neuromuscular diseases, Emmons found that their gratefulness practices not only fostered daily positive feelings but also reduced daily negative emotions and increased overall life satisfaction.
The gratitude intervention also appears to have improved the group's amount and quality of sleep. Furthermore, the effects on well-being were apparent to the participants' spouses or significant others, who were involved as observers in the experiment.