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How being thankful can boost your well-being and success, according to science

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
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Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, most of us are saving our expressions of gratitude for the holiday. But according to scientists, counting your blessings year-round can be good for your mental health and well-being, ultimately boosting your chances of success.

In positive psychology research, gratitude is most often defined as the appreciation of things that are valuable or meaningful to you, according to Harvard Medical School.

Taking the time to be thankful and appreciative for things you have received, tangible or intangible, makes you feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improves your health, helps you deal with adversity and builds strong relationships — all crucial traits both in and out of the workplace.

Numerous studies back up these claims. A 2012 study examined the effects of Thanksgiving on well-being over a three-week period with a sample of 172 undergraduate students. Research participants reported higher levels of positive emotions on the Thanksgiving holiday than on other days of the study.

Researchers took a deeper dive into what differentiated those who felt positive emotions on Thanksgiving from those who didn't. Scientists found that participants who expressed gratitude and thankfulness on that day were more likely to feel positive emotions on Thanksgiving and increased "life satisfaction" on the following days.

In another study, researchers examined how counting your blessings impacts overall well-being. Participants were divided into three groups: One group was asked to journal about negative events or hassles, a second group about the things for which they were grateful and a third group about neutral life events.

The sample that journaled their gratitude showed much higher levels of well-being across the board in comparison with the other two study groups. The major takeaway, according to researchers, was that a conscious focus on blessings may have major emotional and interpersonal benefits.

Other studies have looked at how gratitude can improve relationships particularly in the workplace. Researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania randomly divided university fundraisers into two groups. One group made phone calls to solicit alumni donations per usual, while the second group received a speech from the director of annual giving, thanking them for their efforts.

The next week, the university employees who heard the director's message of gratitude made 50 percent more fundraising calls than those who did not. In this study, researchers found that a little bit of thanks goes a long way in making workers feel appreciated, which in turn motivates them to work harder and be more productive.

But scientists haven't been the only ones touting the benefits of gratitude. Some of the most successful business minds have discussed the importance of living a gratitude-filled life.

Media mogul Oprah Winfrey tracked the things she was grateful for in a "gratitude journal" for a decade. In October of 1996, some of the things she recalls being grateful for include "eating cold melon on a bench in the sun" and "Maya Angelou calling to read me a new poem."

In 2014, Mark Zuckerberg challenged himself to write one thank-you note a day to counter his critical nature and express more gratitude.

And billionaire investor Warren Buffett has often talked about how grateful he is to have achieved such a high level of success.

In a 1998 speech to students at the University of Florida, Buffett reflected on his good fortune, saying, "I am lucky to be born where I was. I have been lucky with parents, lucky with all kinds of things and lucky to be wired in a way that in a market economy, pays off like crazy for me."

Fast-forward to 2016, when the investor reiterated his long-held sentiment of gratitude in a letter to Berkshire-Hathaway shareholders.

"I'm a lucky guy," he wrote, "very fortunate in being surrounded by this excellent staff, a team of highly-talented operating managers and a boardroom of very wise and experienced directors."

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