How Gratitude Reciprocates

The composition of gratitude and its value to us

“It’s a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates,” pronounced Matthew McConaughey on the night of March 2nd, 2014. This was a special night in McConaughey’s illustrious acting career because he was the recipient of the film industry’s greatest honor for a thespian: the Academy Award for the Best Actor. While making his acceptance speech, McConaughey touches on many influences that have impacted him during his time on Earth thus far, but it was this deep insight regarding gratitude — backed by “scientific fact” no less — that caught my attention.

With a piqued curiosity and some free time, I decided to dive deep into the science behind gratitude.

Gratitude’s Connection to Happiness

Researchers have discovered that a mindset of gratitude can be one of the most important cultivators of an individual’s happiness. But, displaying gratitude isn’t simply about saying “thank you” a couple of times a day; that’s just a starting point.

Gratitude is a fundamental driver of happiness because it helps us achieve a sense of reflection amidst a constantly evolving life.

According to Robert Emmons, a pioneer in the study of gratitude and a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, gratitude involves acknowledging the good things in our lives — from the beauty of autumn leaves to the generosity of friends to the taste of a good meal — and recognizing the other people or forces that made them possible. Gratitude helps us savor the good in our lives rather than taking it for granted and yearning for what’s next.
Jason Marsh and Dacher Keltner

You see, as human beings, we are wired to always aim higher. What we currently have is never good enough. We need more and we will go to great lengths to have those things in our lives. While that might sound like a bad conundrum to be a part of, that internal battle towards striving for the “bigger and better” in our lives is actually what helps us to grow and meet our potential.

Where we go wrong, however, is when we equate our happiness to our achievements. For example, if you set a goal to start running a mile every day, then over a portion of time (and with enough effort), you will achieve that goal. What was once just a goal has now become a reality. The problem is once you’ve attained the ability to run a mile each day, your brain will automatically shift the goal so that now you will want to start running 2 miles, 3 miles, et cetera. As soon as we achieve our goals, the brain simply increases the goals, which pushes us even more.


So, if you started your “run 1 mile” goal by thinking, “when I reach that goal, then I’ll be happy,” you will never be happy because your brain will automatically increase your sights to the “run 2 miles” goal. Hence, if your happiness is dependent on the end-result, then the happiness you experience will surely be ephemeral.

However, if you decide to become happy while striving and reaching for these goals (which are always going to be a moving target), then you will experience levels of happiness. This is where gratitude comes in. Gratitude is about loving the nitty-gritty moments of life and not just the end result. At times, we are so enthralled with the idea of achieving something great, that we forget to enjoy the present moment before us.

Gratitude, therefore, affords you the opportunity to enjoy life’s little moments each day. It momentarily allows us to hit the “pause” button and reflect on what is going right in our lives.

Materialistic People

According to a 2009 study led by Nathaniel Lambert, now of Brigham Young University, “inducing gratitude in people caused a decrease in materialism.” Studies have shown that being a materialistic person will put you on the very bottom of the happiness totem pole. Accordingly, the materialistic individuals tend to have “increased neuroticism, poorer interpersonal relationships and less empathy than non-materialists.”

These studies make sense to me. Just think about a smartphone that you’ve wanted for the longest time. Once you bought that smartphone, you felt complete. Life made sense again. But, how long did that feeling of unbridled positivity and optimism actually last?

If you’re like me, those feelings probably disappeared within a week or two. Why? Because my brain had already set its sights on the next smartphone I could start yearning for. I had personally never owned a cell phone until my junior year of high school and I’ve only had a smartphone (Samsung Galaxy S4) since the past year and a half. But, I can clearly remember that momentous time in my life when I first held the S4 in my hands. I thought I would remember that moment forever.


Not the case.

Now, 18 months into owning the phone, I can barely even recall being that happy by the phone initially. Those feelings of initial joy have waned over time. And, my brain has, on cue, figured out which smartphone I should buy next already!

So, instead of letting my brain stray to the thoughts of holding my next smartphone, I can start showing some gratitude for the S4 I currently have the opportunity to use. For instance, there are projected to be 2 billion smartphone users in the world by 2016, but that still means a wide portion of the world’s population still will not have these phones. THAT’s an amazing thing to be thankful for: To be one of the 2 billion people afforded the chance to use the latest technology and learn from it.

Certainly, I have a lot to be grateful for even just in the smartphone department. If I learn to apply this gratefulness to other aspects of my life, I’ll be much better off for it. And, happier.


People who keep a “gratitude journal” — or simply take some time out to write about the things they are grateful for in their lives —are “25% happier than people who don’t keep a gratitude journal.”

The daily journaling helps these individuals to benefit from increased levels of appreciation for their lives. It increases positivity and fosters values that result in “increased gratitude and other positive emotions for at least five months afterwards.”


My Perspective on Gratitude

Personally, I am generally a very upbeat and happy person. Really, nothing gets me too down. Yet, I belive that there’s always room for improvement. And, I’m sure I can be even happier if I attempted some gratitude-fostering activities like journaling and writing thank you notes and emails to people I care about.

In the hustle and bustle of daily life, it is sometimes all too easy to forget why you are working so hard. I know I suffer from that a bit. Practicing gratitude daily will help me to realize that I already have everything I need in life. I have my health. I have no wealth as of yet, but that’ll come during its proper time and place. I have my family. I’m also fortunate enough to be surrounded by and learn from people who are high-achievers and want to make something of their lives. And, every day I get to wake up and have the opportunity to produce some great work. So, I truly have everything I need.

The rest of whatever little I accumulate over my remaining time on this planet will be an added bonus, but not completely necessary or even all that important to my future happiness.


After reading this post, if YOU are brimming with gratitude and want to start showing it immediately, then please hit the “Recommend” button below as it will help more people read this post…thank you!