Want To Be Happier? Try Gratitude.

The silhouette of a pen overlaps a piece of stationary with a decorative red border.

If you are one of the many folks who found yourself struggling with mental health during the pandemic (or anytime for that matter), Y. Joel Wong, professor of counseling psychology in the IU School of Education, has one word for you: gratitude.

Recognizing and acknowledging the good in our lives—even during trying times—is a low-effort practice that has shown to have positive effects on mental and physical health. Moreover, showing gratitude tends to rub off on those we’re closest to, thus improving our relationships and creating a positivity loop in our friend groups.

Wong says there are two sides to the gratitude coin: intrapersonal (feeling grateful) and interpersonal (expressing gratitude).

A photograph portrait of a man smiling while wearing glasses; a black suit jacket; and a patterned, purple tie.
Y. Joel Wong, professor of counseling psychology, IU School of Education

So how can you incorporate more gratitude in your life? Wong has a few tips:

  • Appreciate the little things that happen every day that we often take for granted.
  • Regularly share your gratitude for others.
  • Write gratitude letters to express your appreciation for someone in your life.

Joshua Brown, professor of psychological and brain sciences at IU’s College of Arts and Sciences and Wong’s co-author of a recent gratitude study, summed up the science behind gratitude’s positive health benefits.

“Most interestingly,” said Brown, “when we compared those who wrote the gratitude letters with those who didn’t, the gratitude-letter writers showed greater activation in the medial prefrontal cortex [i.e., the portion of the brain that controls functions such as decision-making and problem-solving and is often involved with emotional reasoning]. [ … ] This indicates that simply expressing gratitude may have lasting effects on the brain.”

This article was originally published in the 2021 issue of Imagine magazine.

Written By
A. Price
A resident of the Hoosier state since grade school, Alex forged a friendship with “tried and true” IU upon becoming a writer at the IU Foundation.