We’re all looking to practice gratitude, especially at this time of year. But new research can help you improve the steps you take to express gratitude and may even help you feel happier.


Here’s are some tips – based on six recent studies – to help you rediscover gratitude. This helpful advice comes from Kira M. Newman, Hannah J. Villarreal, Jill Suttie and Maryam Abdullah of the Greater Good Science Center at University of California, Berkeley:


  1. A gratitude letter might be better than a gratitude journal.

Researchers from the University of California, Riverside, found that writing a gratitude letter to someone appeared to be the most beneficial approach to rekindling feelings of gratitude. When compared to the people who only kept track of daily activities, those who wrote gratitude letters felt more gratitude, positive emotions, elevation and connectedness.


  1. But there’s no best” way to practice gratitude.

The same researchers published a second study this fall that compared gratitude letters to two other practices – practices that involved expressing gratitude directly to others rather than simply reflecting on it in solitude.

No matter how they expressed gratitude, people tended to feel greater positive emotions, satisfaction with life, elevation, connectedness and support, as well as less loneliness.

Texting a thank you did have a slight edge, though. Compared to writing a private letter or broadcasting a public post, it made people feel even more connected and supported.

Overall, it seems like we shouldn’t fret about the “best” way to say thank you. What’s much more important is that we reflect on our gratitude in the first place and, if possible, share that thanks to create a positive connection with others.


  1. We start appreciating gratitude in others as young as age 4.

When do kids start to notice and understand other people’s expressions of gratitude?

Researchers recently explored  this question with 40 (mostly white) preschoolers who watched different videos of a gift-giver and a gift-receiver.

The findings suggest that even young preschoolers interpret expressions of gratitude as important indicators of social information. “This understanding increasingly allows children to evaluate the reliability and trustworthiness of potential cooperative partnerships,” explain researchers Amrisha Vaish and Shannon Savell.

In other words, gratitude helps even young children distinguish between people who are caring and worthy of getting to know better, and people who are selfish whom they might want to avoid.


  1. A gratitude app can help you ruminate less.

When we were locked down during the COVID-19 pandemic, our well-being took a hit as we suffered from worry, stress and isolation. But researchers from the Netherlands and Belgium found that using a gratitude app could help people cope better under stress.

The app featured writing assignments focused on things like appreciating the good things in life, expressing gratitude toward others and finding the positive in adversity. People were encouraged to write 10-15 minutes per day for five days of the week.

As the researchers conclude, “Practicing gratitude using a mobile application has potential to make a significant impact on the mental health of the general population, even during the difficult times of a pandemic.”


  1. Gratitude can protect you from regret.

According to one study, regret is the emotion we experience the most frequently, after love. So how do we deal with feelings of regret?

Ultimately, the participants who had reflected on a gratitude experience felt less regret about their mistaken decisions.

In other experiments, the researchers uncovered the reason why gratitude seemed to protect people from regret: It keeps our minds from dwelling on the past. In general, they found, grateful people tend to focus less on the past. And if you guide a grateful person to mull over past mistakes, they are no longer protected from regret.


  1. Should you say thanks or apologize?

Because much research on gratitude has focused on Western cultures, it may represent a biased view of what gratitude looks like and how it’s practiced. Much more research across different cultures needs to be done to answer this question. For now, the message might be that expressing gratitude makes a difference in our relationships, but we should be thoughtful about when and how we do it.