The Science of Gratitude

Several weeks ago, James Scott Bell posted a question about gratitude. There were a lot of responses to his query, proving writers are a grateful bunch. As we begin this week on final approach to Thanksgiving, I thought I’d take a deep dive into the meaning of the word gratitude to see if there’s been any research into its effects.

Wow. I found a lot. It turns out scientists are discovering a wealth of benefits that come from just being grateful. Remember how Mom used to say, “Count your blessings?” In an article entitled “How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain,” researchers Joshua Brown and Joel Wong state, “many studies over the past decade have found that people who consciously count their blessings tend to be happier and less depressed.” They noted the positive effects of gratitude are felt even if you don’t share it. (It’s nice to see science is catching up with Mom.)

Brown and Wong also performed functional MRIs on some of their subjects’ brains and found those people who were more grateful experienced greater activation in the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain, an area associated with learning and decision making.

Dr. Robert Emmons from the University of California, Davis, is a leading expert on the science of gratitude. In his article “Why Gratitude is Good,” he lists a wealth of benefits experienced by people who regularly practice giving thanks. Some of these are

  • Stronger immune systems
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Better sleep
  • Higher levels of positive emotions
  • Relationship strengthening
  • Feeling less lonely and isolated
  • Increased daily word count in their writing (Okay, I made that one up, but it’s probably true.)

Now, I’m not advocating that we pretend to be grateful just so we’ll receive the benefits of better mental and physical health. But it’s clear that by sincerely affirming the good things we’ve received, we will enjoy happier and healthier lives. And we may make somebody else’s life a little better along the way.

Since we’re writers, let’s return to the question Jim asked several weeks ago, but with a narrower focus.

Name one thing about writing you’re grateful for. It can be a book you’ve read, a mentor who’s inspired and helped you, a blog you love, or any other person or thing you’re grateful for.

I am certainly grateful for all the contributors and commenters on TKZ. Happy Thanksgiving! Wishing you all a safe and healthy holiday.

“Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.” – Aesop

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Nancy Drew meets Tom Sawyer in this fun and chaotic romp through the third book in the Watch cozy mystery series.

With Time All Things Are Revealed

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About Kay DiBianca

Kay DiBianca is a former software developer and IT manager who retired to a life of mystery. She’s the award-winning author of three mystery novels, The Watch on the Fencepost, Dead Man’s Watch, and Time After Tyme. Connect with Kay on her website at

38 thoughts on “The Science of Gratitude

  1. Happy Thanksgiving to you, Kay! One thing I’m thankful for is your post this morning. It’s been a tough year, but the blessings far outweigh the curses.

    One thing — the main thing — about writing that I am grateful for is the number of wonderful friends I have made in the writing community. I would be a different person — and not a better one — without them.

    Enjoy the holiday!

    • Good morning and Happy Thanksgiving to you, Joe!

      I agree with you about the writing community. I am constantly amazed at how many wonderful people I have met and become friends with in just a few years. They truly are blessings.

      Have a great holiday!

  2. Good post, Kay. Thanks, and Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. I’m grateful to my characters for graciously enabling me to experience their stories and live vicariously in so many times and places.

    • Good morning, Harvey, and Happy Thanksgiving to you.

      I love the way you talk about your characters. To live vicariously through their lives is a special blessing only a writer can understand.

      Have a wonderful holiday!

  3. Joe already answered for me: my bounty of good friends in the writing community.

    Most of all, I’m grateful for five decades married to the best guy on earth.

    Kay, your new cover is great. Eagerly awaiting the book.

    Happy Thanksgiving to my TKZ friends!

    • Good morning, Debbie, and Happy Thanksgiving to you.

      Yep, the writing community is the best. One of the blessings of our era is that we can become friends with so many people whom we never met in person.

      Five decades with the best guy on earth? Now that’s a blessing!

      Have a wonderful holiday.

  4. I echo Joe’s comment. I’m also grateful for my parents who instilled a love of reading in me, and all the trips to the library they were willing to make.

    • Good morning, Terry, and Happy Thanksgiving to you.

      A library card is one of life’s treasures. You’re fortunate to have had parents who knew the value of it. Although it’s so much easier today to check out books digitally, there’s something about being inside a building that’s devoted to the care of the written word that is incomparable. I’m grateful for libraries.

      Have a great holiday.

  5. I totally believe being grateful ups the word count! Hmm, something about writing I’m grateful for . . . well, if something IRL scares me, I can put it on paper and control it and work through the emotions so it’s not so scary anymore, and I’m grateful for that!

    • Good morning, Priscilla, and Happy Thanksgiving!

      I love your answer. There are plenty of things to worry about in real life. Having the option to create our own worlds and control them is a gift. And then to make those worlds available to others spreads the blessing.

      Have a wonderful holiday.

  6. Great timing for this post, Kay. Thanks for telling us about the research of gratitude.

    Like Joe and Debbie, my answer is the many friends I’ve made in the writing community, and especially here at TKZ. I never cease to be amazed and appreciate how helpful they (you) are.

    I like the title and cover of your coming release. Good luck with the launch. I look forward to reading it and discovering the mystery of what “Tyme” is.

    • Good morning, Steve, and Happy Thanksgiving!

      Like you, I never get over the wonder at the goodwill and camaraderie I have found in the writing community and especially at TKZ. We are a fortunate bunch.

      I’m getting ready to dive into “The Hemlock Aperture” over the holidays. What a title! I can’t wait.

      Have a great holiday.

  7. I’m grateful to God for even giving me the mere interest in writing something creative. As adults, we lose so much of the wonder and awe we had as children that it’s nice to hang on to a piece of the magic. (And don’t get me started on St. Thomas Aquinas and the concept of sub-creation; sharing a piece of the Almighty’s creative force).

    Happy Thanksgiving.

    • Good morning, Philip, and Happy Thanksgiving.

      What a beautiful response. God is gracious to allow us this power to create.. Maybe one reason the writing community is so special is that we all share in the wonder of what we have.

      Now you’ve got my interest. Let’s hear about St. Thomas Aquinas and the concept of sub-creation!

      Have a wonderful holiday.

      • Kay, I’m no philosophy scholar, but the idea is that God obviously has all the creative power in existence; obviously since He created all of reality itself. So, like free will, love, etc., He gave us just a small taste of what it’s like to be Him by gracing us with the ability to create art. It’s an infinitesimal view of what it’s like to be Him. So, sub-creation is the idea that God is the actual creator of everything, including our little art projects, so to write, for example, is to collaborate with the Almighty. Even our pulpiest pulp fiction has God as co-author. To write, therefore, is a grace from above and a true spiritual exercise.

        • Philipi,

          Sorry to be so late replying to your powerful explanation.

          “so to write, for example, is to collaborate with the Almighty.” I have believed for many years that we should “partner” with God in our lives. He has given us certain talents and abilities, but we have to do our part while affirming his omnipotence.

          Writing seems to be a creative endeavor set apart. I suppose because God spoke the universe into being and communicated his will through words, writing is a special gift from above.

          Thank you for continuing this conversation.

  8. The science behind gratitude fascinates me, Kay. Positive people in general live healthier lives.

    Gotta agree with Joe. I’m thankful for the writers I’ve formed friendships with over the years. Without them, this profession wouldn’t be nearly as fun. I’m also grateful for my family, especially my husband. Even after 25 years together, I never doubt we were made to spend the rest of our lives together.

    • Good morning, Sue, and Happy Thanksgiving.

      Reading about the science behind gratitude was very interesting. We always assume that people who are happy show gratitude. But maybe it’s the other way around.

      Sounds like you have plenty to be grateful for. Congratulations on 25 years with the right person and best wishes for many more to come.

      Have a great holiday.

  9. If I hadn’t written my one novel, I never would have met some of my dearest friends. Thank you for your post.

    • Good morning, Michelle, and Happy Thanksgiving!

      Writing one novel is a great accomplishment. To have met close friends as a result is a great blessing. Good for you.

      Have a wonderful holiday.

  10. Good morning, Kay! Your post is a wonderful way to start off the Monday before Thanksgiving (a favorite holiday of mine). I’m a big believer in the importance of having gratitude, now more than ever, and am fascinated to see science backing that belief up.

    Like others, I’m very thankful for your post, and like Joe and previous commenters, I’m grateful for all the wonderful writers we have here in the KZB community, and all the friends I’ve made here. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to open the toy chest of my imagination every day and play in words. I’m so grateful for all the years I had the privilege of working at the public library, and all the people I could help, and all the books I could connect with readers. I started there in 1987 thinking it would be a job of a few years and it became a career, which enormously benefited me as a person.

    Finally, I’m grateful for my wife and soul mate of nearly forty years (next February).

    Have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Good morning, Dale, and Happy Thanksgiving! (It’s also one of my favorite holidays.)

      “I’m grateful to have the opportunity to open the toy chest of my imagination every day and play in words.” What a great illustration of the writer’s world. What a gift.

      I guess you were working inside the treasure chest all the years you were at the library. Lucky you.

      Sounds like you have a host of things to be grateful for. Forty years with your soul mate — it can’t get much better than that.

      Have a wonderful holiday.

  11. (It’s nice to see science is catching up with Mom.)

    In so many ways, Kay! I hear her voice now. Deb, don’t take things so personally. And, oh, by the way, eat your broccoli. 🙂

    There are so many blessings of the writing life that I couldn’t begin to scratch the surface. Solitude comes to mind. People who are real to me but no one else can see. The chance to play with words every day. My name on the cover of a book. Just to pick a few.

    The best, though? When a reader takes the time to send me a hand-written thank you note. Nothing really tops that.

    Happy Thanksgiving, Kay, and all of you lurking in these halls.

    • Good morning, Deb, and Happy Thanksgiving to you.

      Great list of things, especially a reader who sends a hand-written thank you note! To know you touched someone’s life is a great blessing indeed. And you added another new item to the list: the solitude to commune with our characters and tell their stories.

      Just between you and me: I’ve never been grateful for broccoli. Working on it. 🙂

      Have a wonderful holiday.

  12. I’m thankful for:
    * Those times when you read book after book that are ok but don’t rock your world, then you find that ONE book that gets you all excited & makes you dance in your chair.
    * the fact that writers are a very generous and giving group of people who share what they have learned so that other writers who need help & guidance can get it.
    * those times when you read a book on writing and it has that ONE tidbit in it that was the magic bullet that you were looking for to get over a particular hump in your writing at that point in time.
    * The absolute excitement of hitting upon a new story idea that takes off in your mind like wildfire and gets you fired up anew to keep writing.
    * Those moments when you go back and re-read something you wrote and you raise your hands in victory and say “Nailed it! Did I write that?” 😎 😎 😎

    Thanks to the TKZ community for being generous with your knowledge and experience.

    • Good morning, BK, and Happy Thanksgiving.

      I love your list. You summed up so much of what we as writers have to be thankful for. I especially liked “The absolute excitement of hitting upon a new story idea that takes off in your mind like wildfire and gets you fired up anew to keep writing.” What can be better than that?

      Have a wonderful holiday.

  13. Ditto Joe’s comment. The friends I’ve made–writers and readers– are such a blessing. On a personal level, focusing on the stories I write has really helped my ADHD–better than any medicine. 🙂

  14. Good morning, Patricia, and Happy Thanksgiving.

    The writing community is a special world, and so many have expressed their appreciation for it.

    You bring up another great point: writing stories is a magic pill to help us overcome a host of issues. Good for you!

    Have a wonderful holiday.

  15. Oh my goodness, Kay! What a post!

    First, Happy Thanksgiving. Second, thank you for this thoughtful post and the insights (and humor) you shared.

    There are so many things to be thankful for in a writing life, not the least of which are the friends I’ve made. Priceless. But the thing about writing that I am MOST grateful for is that writing fiction gives me a chance to see the world from another’s perspective, the same way Scout Finch saw her world – through all its seasons – from Boo Radley’s front porch. That’s the idea that got me started writing, and after lo these many years, it’s the force that keeps me writing.

    Thank you for the chance to comment.

    Thanksgiving blessings to you and yours.


    • Good morning, Lisa, and thank you for being here.

      So much to be thankful for. You added another one to the list. “But the thing about writing that I am MOST grateful for is that writing fiction gives me a chance to see the world from another’s perspective,”

      I’m glad you pointed that out. Seeing the world through another set of lenses is a gift we writers should cherish.

      Happy Thanksgiving!

  16. I’m grateful for the published authors I met when I fist considered this venture. They were encouraging, wise and truly cared about my success.

    I’m trying to pay it forward.

  17. I am grateful that the ideas still flow after all these years.

    And I’m deeply grateful for the communities of writers who encourage, promote, and help each other reach success. Looking at you, TKZ!

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