The Gift of Gratitude

adobe hut

A Memorable Experience

I vividly recall an experience when I lived in Cochabamba, Bolivia (many years ago). My traveling companion and I met a man on a bus who invited us to come to visit his family. We immediately changed our plans and accompanied him to his home. We arrived at a small, adobe-like, two-roomed house. The floors were dirt and the furnishings were few.

Most memorable was the greeting this man (and we) received from his wife and two little boys, about five and three years of age. They boys hollered and jumped up and down as soon as their father walked through the door. Their father picked them up, whirled them around, and gave them both a big squeeze. His wife, preparing dinner in a wood oven, stopped what she was doing, looked at us a little shyly, approached her husband, and gave him a hug. We had such a great time that evening. We ate a simple meal, played with these little boys, and talked to the parents. Such a humble family. So little in the way of material means. But happy. It still brings a smile to my face to think of being in their presence.

I remember sometime later asking the father why they were so happy. He asked me what more he could want. He had a kind wife and two energetic sons, food and shelter, a job, health, good friendships. Life was good. I still have a warm spot in my heart for the Aguado family, whom I’ve not seen in years.

Gratitude and Mental Health

Recent research proves (I know that is a strong word) that people who have grateful hearts are happier, less depressed and less stressed, than those who are less grateful. (1) They report a greater sense of purpose, more control, greater self-acceptance, and more positive ways of coping with difficulties. (2) In short, gratitude is more highly linked with mental health and well-being than any other character trait.

Moreover, gratitude is not only associated with well-being, it causes it. In 2005, Martin Seligman (the father of Positive Psychology) randomly assigned participants to one of six therapeutic interventions designed to improve quality of life. (3) The biggest short-term benefit came from an intervention known as a “gratitude visit” in which participants wrote and then personally delivered a letter of gratitude to someone in their lives. This single act raised the average “happiness score” of these participants by 10%. The results were still in effect a month after the visit.

Another intervention required another group of participants to keep a “gratitude journal” and write down three things they were grateful for every day. These participants’ scores not only increased but continued to increase each time they were tested following the experiment. In fact, the greatest benefits didn’t even occur until around six months after treatment began. Although the participants were only asked to keep their journals for a week, most of them continued long after the study was over.

As I continue to think about this concept of gratitude, I’m aware that I may not have the greatest measure of financial wealth, physical beauty, mental prowess, fame, and so on. But not so gratitude. As I learned from Gilberto Aguado and his family, gratitude is available, in abundance, to all of us, if we’re willing to access, cultivate, and develop this gift, one of the greatest sources of happiness.

So I’m curious. What are you grateful for? Share your thoughts.


(1) McCullough, M. E., Emmons, R. A., & Tsang, J. (2002). The grateful disposition: A conceptual and empirical topography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 112-127 and Wood, A. M., Joseph, S., & Maltby, J. (2008). Gratitude uniquely predicts satisfaction with life: Incremental validity above the domains and facets of the Five Factor Model. Personality and Individual Differences, 45, 49-54.

(2) Wood, A. M., Joseph, S. & Maltby (2009). Personality and Individual Differences, 45, 655-660. Gratitude predicts psychological well-being above the Big Five facets. 

(3) Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N.,& Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421.



  1. Paul Lane

    Fantast thoughts! I truly needed to read your blog tonight Roger. Thanks for reminding me what is truly important and most valuable!

  2. Roger Allen

    You’re welcome Paul. I’m glad the message was timely. Hope you are well.

  3. Melinda

    I’m thankful for my father:)

  4. Roger Allen

    Thank-you for the comment. Your father is a very fortunate man to have such a thoughtful daughter.

  5. Chris Mueser

    These short, but relevant pieces are very meaningful. This one resonates particularly with me today. I was on a climbing/backpacking trip this past week, and we incurred what can only be described as a serious encounter with a bear in our camp at 10:00 at night. One of my climbing partners tents and everything inside of it were completely destroyed in the attack. Thankfully, he and my other climbing partner had just gone down to collect water from the small stream near the lake about 100 meters away.

    Me on the other hand, lay in my tent 25 feet away from the intruder, listening to the carnage taking place. I was very vulnerable in my low position and could have received serious injury. Luckily I was able to dissuade the bear through verbal and manual noise from inside the confines of my tent. He ambled away after 10 harrowing minutes.

    We encountered him again at 3:30 in the morning while we were on rotation watch to protect the camp. We were able to discourage him from any further approach, and he left for the night.

    This all circles back to the many things that have run through my mind since the incident. How seriously I, or my climbing partners could have been injured or maimed. How fortunate we were to escape the area with further incident. How glad I am to be home. How happy I am to talk with my friends and family these past couple of days.

    We had to abort our trip early the next day because of the danger. It was very disappointing because we are down to only a few of the 14ers left to complete, and these particular ones are remote, and deep in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Very difficult to get to. But my thoughts this morning are toward my complete gratitiude that I was spared during one of the most intense moments of my life. I am deeply thankful for writing this note today to you.

    I will e-mail the full story to you and you are welcome to share with others if you choose.

    Chris Mueser


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