9 Key Lessons On Gratitude From “Thanks!” by Robert Emmons
robert emmons thanks

Thanks! By Robert Emmons (Book Summary)

robert emmons book thanks!
“I soon discovered that gratitude is a deeper, more complex phenomenon that plays a critical role in human happiness. Gratitude is literally one of the few things that can measurably change peoples’ lives."

This is a quote from Robert Emmons’ book Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier”.

The book is all about the latest research of gratitude and how it can help us live a happier life.

In this article I want to share 9 key takeaways I got from reading this book.

Enjoy, and thanks for checking it out:​

Looking for more great books? Download our free recommendation guide '20 Books That Shaped Our Thinking'.

1. Gratitude has endless benefits

“Preliminary findings suggest that those who regularly practice grateful thinking do reap emotional, physical, and interpersonal benefits. Adults, who keep gratitude journals on a regular basis exercise more regularly, report fewer illness symptoms, feel better about their lives as a whole, and are more optimistic about the future.
When people report feeling grateful, thankful, and appreciative, they also feel more loving, forgiving, joyful, and enthusiastic.
Our groundbreaking research has shown that grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism, and that the practice of gratitude as a discipline protects a person from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness.
We have discovered that a person who experiences gratitude is able to cope more effectively with everyday stress, may show increased resilience in the face of trauma-induced stress, and may recover more quickly from illness and benefit from greater physical health. Our research has led us to conclude that experiencing gratitude leads to increased feelings of connectedness, improved relationships, and even altruism.”

Is there anything that doesn’t benefit from some gratitude?

I don’t think so.

The crazy part about all these benefits is that they are PROVEN by research.

This isn’t some spiritual, religious, or whatever wishful thinking… these are real world benefits that you can get by simply practicing gratitude on a regular basis. (Most of the studies show it doesn’t take more than 5 minutes a day, if at all!)

Being physically healthier? Sick less often? Recovering faster? Better able to cope with stress? Experiencing more feelings of joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and connectedness? Experiencing less resentment, greed, and bitterness?

Sign me up!

2. Gratitude Even Helps With Sleep Issues

gratitude baby sleeps better
“Compared to those who were not jotting down their blessings nightly, participants in the gratitude condition reported getting more hours of sleep each night, spending less time awake before falling asleep, and feeling more refreshed upon awakening. Perhaps this is why grateful individuals feel more alive and vital during the day... This finding is enormous in that sleep disturbance and poor sleep quality have been identified as central indicators of poor overall well-being.”

Oh, who’d have thought?

Gratitude helps you fall asleep faster, get more hours of sleep each night, and wake up feeling more refreshed in the morning. ✓

That’s pretty neat because sleep itself has of course a shit ton of benefits as well. (In case you haven’t noticed yet, Jonas and I do a lot to optimize our sleep. Guess why?)

Anyway, if you’ve got any issues with sleep, gratitude helps.

Obviously, also make sure you check out our other articles on optimizing your sleep (it’s important!).

3. Gratitude Boosts Happiness By 25%

grateful woman is happy

This is how Robert Emmons’ first study went down:

Three groups were asked to write in a journal once a week for ten weeks. The groups had to briefly describe in a single sentence:

  • (Group 1) Gratitude condition: five things they were grateful for
  • (Group 2) Hassles condition: five things they were displeased about
  • (Group 3) Events condition: five neutral events
“What did the first study reveal? At the end of the ten weeks, we examined differences between the three groups on all of the well-being outcomes that we measured at the outset of the study. Participants in the gratitude condition felt better about their lives as a whole and were more optimistic about the future than participants in either of the other control conditions. To put it into numbers, according to the scale we used to calculate well-being, they were a full 25 percent happier than other participants.”

Is that CRAZY or what!

Want 25% more happiness?

Simply write down. Once a week. In one single sentence. 5 things you’re grateful for.

That’s all it takes.

Now you may be wondering, “What am I gonna do with all that happiness anyway?”

Fair question (not really!), so let’s see what happiness can do for you…

4. Happiness Creates Success

gratitude makes you successful
“So gratitude is a key to happiness, as I will argue from a scientific angle. And happiness itself is a good thing. An implicit assumption that many of us hold is that happiness depends on happenings—by what happens in our lives. We believe that success in life—whether in the boardroom or the bedroom—makes people happier. Yet a recent review of the scientific literature on happiness revealed that happiness yields numerous rewards for the individual and precedes these outcomes. This means that happiness makes good things happen. It actually promotes positive outcomes. The benefits of happiness include higher income and superior work outcomes (for example, greater productivity, higher quality of work, greater occupational attainment), larger social rewards (such as more satisfying and longer marriages, more friends, stronger social support, and richer social interactions), more activity, energy, and flow, and better physical health (for example, a bolstered immune system, lowered stress levels, and less pain), and even longer life.”

So, gratitude increases your happiness.

And happiness itself then makes more good things happen in your life.

Yes, happiness actually creates success (and not the other way round).

It increases your productivity and work quality, gives you more satisfying relationships, more friends, richer social interactions, and of course more energy, better physical health, a stronger immune system, lowered stress and pain levels, and even a longer life.

Ok. Ok. Ok.

Happiness is good for you.

And gratitude creates happiness.

But what about outside circumstances? What about having a lot of money? Or nice cars? Or winning the lottery? Or living in a beautiful neighborhood? Or having a respectable job?

Does that count for nothing anymore? Do such things not also increase happiness?

Well, yes they do. Just not very much.

Let me explain…

5. Your Happiness Set-Point

“Researchers suggest each person has a chronic or characteristic level of happiness. According to this idea, people have happiness set-points to which they inevitably return following disruptive life events. Getting that book published, moving to California, having the person of your dreams answer your personal ad, each of these may send the happiness meter right off the scale for a while but, in a few months, it will drift back to the set-point that is typical for that individual. What goes up must come down.”

Well, these are some rather discouraging news.

Your genetics determine a happiness set-point to which you gravitate towards in good as well as in bad times.

The reason this happens is because of a process called adaptation.

We, as human beings, are adaptation machines. We take good things for granted and overcome obstacles that life throws at us, only to return to the happiness level that is natural for us.

  • Win the lottery? End up back at your happiness set-point after a few months.
  • Lose your job? End up back at your happiness set-point after few months.

Some people are genetically programmed to be happy all the time, while others may be programmed for chronic unhappiness.

Yep, life’s not fair…

But there’s also good news:

Your genetic happiness set-point only determines 50% of your overall happiness.

The other 50% are made up of outside circumstances (money, fame, family, etc.) which account for 10% of your happiness and your behaviors which account for a whopping 40% of your happiness.

  • Genetic set-point: 50%
  • Circumstances: 10%
  • Intentional activity (behavior): 40%
Happiness set-point

Most people are trying to improve their outside circumstances. They want more money, a better car, a hotter body, a more beautiful spouse, a better job, and more.

Research, however, tells us that this is the wrong way to go about it.

The key to happiness lies not in changing our circumstances or changing our genetic makeup (which is frankly impossible), but in changing our behavior.

Focusing on your behavior (40%) makes much more sense than focusing on your circumstances (10%). It’s much easier and is 4x more powerful for increasing your levels of happiness.*

So then:

Which behaviors do optimize those 40%?

As you might guess… ONE key behavior that increases our happiness is of course gratitude.

So let’s learn some more about it…

(*Also note that once you are happier - thanks to your improved behavior - you automatically create better outside circumstances. Because happiness creates success.)

6. Gratitude Is A Choice

Wanna be sad and depressed or grateful and happy? You CHOOSE.

“From reading accounts of gratitude from people around the world and throughout history, I became convinced that gratitude is an approach to life that can be freely chosen for oneself. It does not depend upon objective life circumstances such as health, wealth, or beauty.”

This is crucial.

You can CHOOSE to be grateful for what you have in life.

It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, big or small, beautiful or not so beautiful, smart or dumb.

Even if you have no money in your bank account whatsoever… you can choose to be grateful for other things in your life.

And guess what?

If you have a net worth of $5 and someone else has a net worth of $5mio… that doesn’t necessarily mean that you must be less grateful or less happy than he is.

In fact, chances are that you are both happier and more grateful if you choose to practice gratitude on a regular basis.

That’s the beauty of gratitude:

You can basically have nothing in your life and still be happier than the rest of the world - if you just choose to be grateful for that which you have.

The bottom line is this:

If you want all the amazing benefits of gratitude discussed earlier, then you must CHOOSE to practice gratitude on a regular basis…

…it will NOT happen by itself.

7. Gratitude Takes Effort

gratitude takes effort

Work that gratitude muscle.

“Though experienced for the most part as a pleasant affective state, a felt sense of gratitude can require, at times, considerable effort.”

Being grateful can be tough.

The human mind is somehow equipped with mental tools that appear to work against the tendency to feel grateful.

First of all, we adapt to circumstances fairly quickly. When we’re going through a rough time, we adapt and overcome the obstacles. When we’re going through an awesome time, we adapt and take things for granted.

Other than that, we may also just be forgetful of all the things we could be thankful for.

We may have too high expectations.

Or we may just assume that we ourselves are totally responsible for all the good that comes our way.

Whatever it is for you personally…

Realize that there will be obstacles on your path to becoming a more grateful person.

And realize that coming up with things you’re grateful for may take time.

I see this with myself quite often. I sit down to write in my daily gratitude journal and it may take 5-10 minutes until I genuinely feel grateful for what I’ve got in life.

When I’ve had a rough day, I can’t just sit down and experience gratitude within a few seconds.

It takes time and effort.

The good news:

We get better at it over time. We sharpen our ability to recognize and acknowledge the giftedness of life. The more often we practice being grateful, the better we get at it. (Just like with any other skill…)

8. Stop Being A Little Bitch

be grateful already

Stop feeling sorry for yourself and man up...

“The tendency to blame others can be a strong resistance against gratitude. A sense of victimization leaves one wounded and mired in resentment and desires for retaliation. People who think of themselves as victims are unable to conjure any appreciation for what life has to offer them. When one’s identity is wrapped up in the perception of victimhood, the capacity for gratitude shrinks.”

So basically:

Being a little complaining bitch is a huge obstacle to gratitude.

And I would even go a step further in Emmons’ last sentence:

When one’s identity is wrapped up in the perception of victimhood, the capacity for being happy and living a great life shrinks. Tremendously.

Look, YOU are 100% responsible for your life.

You are the master commander. You are at the steering wheel. You are 100% in charge of your own life.

So stop complaining, stop criticizing, and stop blaming other people for your own shortcomings, problems, and failures. (Watch my friend Antonio's one minute video for more on that! And if you like it, be sure to check out his podcast over here.)

Not only is it a huge obstacle to feeling grateful, but it’s also an obstacle to living a meaningful and happy life.

David J. Schwartz, author of one of my favorite books “The Magic of Thinking Big”, says it best:

“You will find that the more successful the individual, the less inclined he is to make excuses. But the fellow who has gone nowhere and has no plans for getting anywhere always has a bookful of reasons to explain why. Persons with mediocre accomplishments are quick to explain why they haven’t, why they don’t, why they can’t, and why they aren’t.” – David J. Schwartz

So stop making excuses. Stop all the whining and complaining. Stop playing the victim in your life. Stop being a little bitch.

Instead start being a grateful commander in chief of your own life.

9. Keep A Daily Gratitude Journal

keep a daily gratitude journal
“One of the best ways to cultivate gratitude is to establish a daily practice in which you remind yourself of the gifts, grace, benefits, and good things you enjoy. One of the best ways to do this is keeping a daily journal in which you record the blessings you are grateful for. My research has shown... that this technique makes people happier. When we are grateful, we affirm that a source of goodness exists in our lives. By writing each day, we magnify and expand upon these sources of goodness. Setting aside time on a daily basis to recall moments of gratitude associated with even mundane or ordinary events, your personal attributes, or valued people in your life gives you the potential to interweave and thread together a sustainable life theme of gratefulness, just as it nourishes a fundamental life stance whose thrust is decidedly affirming.”

Keeping a gratitude journal is probably the easiest way to practice gratitude.

Just write down 5 (or more) things you’re grateful for every day. (I do it at night.)

Simple enough.


Gratitude is a winner.

Yes, it takes time and effort.

Yes, there are obstacles to feeling grateful.

The benefits, however, massively outshine those obstacles.

Research has proven that gratitude makes you generally healthier as grateful people get sick less often, exercise more often, sleep better, and are better able to cope with stress.

Gratitude also lowers feelings of resentment, greed, and bitterness while increasing feelings of joy, enthusiasm, love, optimism, and connectedness. BEST of all, gratitude increases your happiness by 25%!

So, if you want to be happier and experience all these other benefits, start by writing a daily gratitude journal.

Write down 5 things you’re grateful for.

That’s all it takes.

Thanks for reading!

P.S. Want more advice from great books? Check out the articles below:

Nils Salzgeber

Nils Salzgeber is the author of two books and co-founder of the popular NJlifehacks blog. He is passionate about anything that helps him become a more peaceful, productive, and loving version of himself. After quitting university twice, he has recently gone back to get a psychology degree. Nils lives in Thun, Switzerland.

  • Meeta Sharma says:

    Precise and practical points with genuine explaination ,a real short version of the book;in whole creates a curiosity for the full text

  • Pat Wyman says:

    Love your article Nils!

    I was diagnosed with a pituitary brain tumor and instead of surgery opted for gratitude. Every…single…day. A year later, the tumor was gone!

    Went through all the struggles mentioned in your article and fortunately, through compassion towards myself, was able to turn everything around.

    Recently, I wrote a book- The One-Minute Gratitude Journal: For the Moments That Matter and I’ve already received stories of how gratitude changed people’s lives!

    Let me know if you’d like a copy and I’ll send one over to you!


  • Your first entry on the Top 10 has typo you may wish to correct if you read this. I’m sure you meant to state in your list “… feel better about their lives as a whole … ” as opposed to a “hole.” All best with this effort.

  • jasmine says:

    Thank you for this summary.
    would love to hear what you think of Gratitude and You book on Amazon by JFK Stern.
    Amazing book filled with lots of practical tools

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