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Researchers have found that the expression of gratitude gives positive effects on our both mental and physical health.

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[♩INTRO ].

If you live in the U. S., Thanksgiving is almost here!

You know what that means: Turkey. Gravy. Pie!

And that freeze-frame family moment when somebody stops you from taking a last bite because it's time to say nice things. Right. Giving thanks.

That's a thing, in addition to the food. For centuries, philosophers have considered gratefulness to be an essential value. And based on all the gratitude journals in every Barnes and Noble, we still think it has a lot of power for the person being thanked and the person doing the thanking.

Now, psychologists define gratitude as the feeling you get when you receive something you perceive as valuable, whether it's a compliment or a hot meal. And they have a couple of ideas about why gratitude makes us feel so good… although the science isn't always straightforward. One idea is that gratitude tells others that we're up for prosocial behavior, which is doing stuff that helps other people.

Basically, it's worth the risk and energy to be nice to a grateful person, because they might return the favor. Another idea is that receiving gratitude allows the person helping out to feel capable and valued by other people—both of those things have been shown to be super motivating. But this doesn't quite explain why gratitude feels good when you're giving thanks instead of receiving it.

So some researchers think that gratitude actually improves the quality of relationships, whether they're new or long-term. And positive emotions and strong relationships have both been shown to improve our physical and mental health. For instance, a 2008 study of new sorority members at the University of Virginia looked at around 70 Little Sister and Big Sister pairs.

They focused on a week where the Bigs anonymously gave notes and gifts to their Littles, and eventually revealed their identities. Pretty standard lovely sorority stuff. The researchers found that a Little's feelings of gratitude toward her Big during that week predicted how strong she felt the relationship was and if she felt like a part of the sorority.

Surprisingly, the Little's feelings of gratitude also predicted her Big's sense of the relationship a month later. Along the same lines, a 2010 survey of 67 romantic couples found that how much gratitude one partner felt on a day could predict how satisfied with the relationship both partners were on that day. But here's the catch: it's gotta be real.

Fake thank-yous don't cut it and expressing your “appreciation” for a stranger on the street is harassment, so just don't. In that 2010 study of romantic relationships, researchers tried to look at the difference between feeling indebted and truly grateful. The couples were asked how often they felt “grateful,” “appreciative,” or “thankful” for something their partner did versus how often they felt like they owed their partner one.

Of course, sometimes both emotions happen at the same time. But gratitude predicted relationship satisfaction, while indebtedness by itself did not. There's also some evidence that genuinely feeling thankful is what's most important.

A 2011 study of 50 married couples found that a person was more satisfied with their relationship when they felt and expressed gratitude for their partner. But here's the thing: the partner felt good about the relationship when the first person reported feeling gratitude. But expressing gratitude didn't seem to matter.

The researchers thought this might be because a “thanks, honey” could feel less than genuine, like something sarcastic, a throwaway line, or even a passive-aggressive request to do more. And, unfortunately, this is where things start to get murky. Most of the research on gratitude is from the last 15 years, so it's pretty recent and there's still a lot up for debate.

Some studies have even drawn opposite conclusions from the ones we just talked about. Like, a number of studies of veterans without PTSD, middle-age divorced women, children, and adolescents all showed no benefits from any kind of gratitude. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a series of experiments from 2003 found that people who were asked to keep a gratitude journal or who reported feeling grateful on a survey had seemingly miraculous physical and emotional benefits.

They had fewer aches and pains, exercised more, got more sleep, felt happier, and believed they had stronger relationships with others. Which all sounds like a little too good to be true, but this study is still highly regarded by other researchers. So there may even be specific circumstances where gratitude does or doesn't boost well-being.

Psychologists don't have it all figured out yet. But I'll leave you with this: in some studies where participants reported when they felt or expressed gratitude over a few weeks, researchers found that they did it more towards the end. This seems to suggest that even being reminded to be grateful could cause us to feel and express more gratitude.

So… maybe this is something we should do more than once a year over turkey? Or at the very least, we could really mean our thank-yous. And on that note, I want to genuinely thank, here, thanksgiving time, our Patrons for giving their support, because SciShow Psych would honestly not exist without you.

If you'd like to become one of those people, you can go to And if you just want to support us by watching our content, you can go to and subscribe. [ ♩OUTRO ].