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Posted on Fri, May 3, 2013 : 6 a.m.

Pursuit of Happiness: Is gratitude more than saying thanks?

By Wayne Baker

Editor's note: This post is part of a series by Dr. Baker on Our Values about core American values. This week Dr. Baker is discussing happiness.

Expressing gratitude is the first happiness prescription that psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky gives her book, The How of Happiness. People who are consistently grateful are not only happier, but more energetic, hopeful, helpful, empathetic, forgiving, spiritual and religious.

The pursuit of happiness is our theme this week. It’s one of the rights named in the U.S. Declaration of Independence. It is also one of the 10 core American values—the values that most Americans share in common.

We saw that about 40% of your happiness is under your control, how social comparisons decrease happiness, how more money buys more happiness, and how acts of kindness elevate happiness.

Today, we consider expressing gratitude. I’m asking: Is there more to gratitude than saying thanks?

Being grateful is a habit that can be cultivated, says Lyubomirsky, and when we do so we become happier. Here are some of the actions she recommends.

Keep a gratitude journal: Once a week, sit down in a quiet place and jot down all the things, events, and people for which you are grateful. These can be big or small. The key is to do this activity only once a week. Doing it more frequently actually does not elevate happiness.

Contemplate gratitude Perhaps you don’t like to sit and write. That’s okay—you could also reflect on that for which you are grateful. Expressing it mentally works as well as writing it down.

Change your strategy Lyubomirsky says it’s important to keep things fresh. So, you could vary the day of the week, or time of day when you count your blessings. You could focus on one domain of your life one week (say, family) and another domain the week after (work).

Tell someone Express your gratitude directly to the person for whom you are grateful. You could send an email, text, use Facebook, write a letter, call on the phone, or talk face to face. The method of communication doesn’t matter—what matters is the personal expression of appreciation.

Have you ever kept a gratitude journal?

Who have you thanked recently?

Of the various happiness activities we’ve discussed this week, which one works the best for you?

Wayne Baker is a sociologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Baker blogs daily at Our Values and can be reached at or on Facebook.