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Gratitude versus Positive Thinking

Amanda P. Johnson, MS, LAMFT • [email protected]


Today’s blog post was inspired by NPR’s Life Kit podcast. They did an episode on evidence-based tricks to being happier that really teased out the differences between gratitude and positive thinking. These differences are so important for our overall happiness, the longevity of life, and our closest relationships.

Before we dive in, let’s define gratitude and positive thinking:

Gratitude: an emotion and a trait; feeling thankful, showing appreciation, ready to return kindness 

Positive thinking: fantasy about how something could be; think the best will happen 

Positive thinking feels good in the short term but can hinder you in the long term. It can trick your brain into feeling all the good feelings from only thinking about your goals, hopes, and wants for change. Positive thinking lacks a well-thought-out plan. Furthermore, when empathy is replaced with “think positive”, “look on the bright side”, “at least…” it can actually foster disconnection and misunderstanding in relationships.

Practicing gratitude, on the other hand, has immediate and long-term benefits for our relationships and ourselves. Gratitude has been linked to increased happiness, resiliency, physical health (e.g., immune system, less pain, lower blood pressure), and overall life satisfaction.

It can strengthen the connection and quality in all our relationships. Dr. John Gottman’s research shows that practicing gratitude through sharing fondness and appreciation is a critical step in building a healthy and happy relationship. Gratitude can be a way to show your engagement and responsiveness towards your own emotional world and your partner’s emotional world.

Questions to Cultivate Gratitude


What are the little and big joys in your life? What has been good this month? How did you make that happen? What is beautiful outside? What was a random good thing that happened to you?


Write what you love, like, appreciate, or how you care for someone. What did they do that helped you through a difficult time? What is something special about your relationship with them? How do they make you laugh? What happiness do they bring to your life? What is something you admire or think is special about them?

Extra Credit: Write it in a letter and share it with your partner, friend, or family member.

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