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Gratitude in Practice and the Practice of Gratitude

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Gratitude in Practice and the Practice of Gratitude

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CHAPTER 33
The Power and Practice of Gratitude
GIACOMO BONO, MIKKI KRAKAUER, and JEFFREY J. FROH
ACENTRAL TENET OF RESEARCH in positive psychology is that supportive social
relationships are essential to human thriving. Gratitude is perfectly suited to
this end. Gratitude is the feeling people experience when they receive a gift or
benet from another person. It can also be an attitude of appreciating life as a gift. Peo-
ple with a grateful disposition tend to experience it more frequently, more intensely,
toward more people, and for more things in their life at any given moment (McCul-
lough, Emmons, & Tsang, 2002). We begin this chapter with a brief review of basic
research on gratitude, focusing rst on adult populations and then on youth popula-
tions. We then turn to applied research pertaining to clinical purposes for adults and
academic purposes for youth. Finally, we discuss how gratitude is related to the “good
life” for adults and youth and close with suggestions for future research directions. It
is our contention that gratitude is important for positively transforming individuals,
families, and organizations.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF RESEARCH ON GRATITUDE
Social scientists have focused on gratitude since the 1930s (Baumgarten-Tramer,
1938; Bergler, 1945, 1950; Gouldner, 1960; Heider, 1958; Schwartz, 1967; Simmel,
1950). Though it has been considered fundamental to the maintenance of reciprocity
obligations between people (Gouldner, 1960; Simmel, 1950) and evolutionarily
adaptive for its promotion of altruistic behavior (Trivers, 1971), the bulk of empirical
research occurred over the past dozen years because psychological research was
long dominated by a focus on pathology rather than ourishing (Seligman & Csik-
szentmihalyi, 2000). Two classic studies—showing that expressing and experiencing
gratitude bring peace of mind, satisfying personal relationships, and well-being
(Emmons & McCullough, 2003; McCullough et al., 2002)—catalyzed the eld, and
since then a girth of research on gratitude and its applications have emerged.
CONCEPTUALIZATIONS OF GRATITUDE AS A MORAL AFFECT
Gratitude is considered a moral affect because it results from and stimulates behavior
that is motivated by a concern for other people’s well-being (McCullough, Kilpatrick,
Acknowledgment: Preparation of this chapter was supported by a generous grant from the John Templeton
Foundation.
559
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560 INNER RESOURCES AND POSITIVE DEVELOPMENT ACROSS THE LIFE SPAN
Emmons, & Larson, 2001). Unlike other moral emotions that operate when one falls
short of important standards or obligations (i.e., guilt and shame) or when one is
motivated to help another in need (i.e., sympathy and empathy), gratitude is dis-
tinctly operant when one is the recipient of prosocial behavior and serves to increase
prosocial behavior between people.
McCullough et al. (2001) delineated three moral functions of gratitude in social life
by examining the existing empirical research on gratitude and related concepts (i.e.,
thankfulness, appreciation). First, the emotion of gratitude serves as a moral barome-
ter by indicating a change in one’s social relationships; recipients regard benefactors
as moral agents for having augmented their personal well-being and acknowledge the
particular importance of relationships with them. Second, as a moral reinforcer, the
expression of gratitude increases the chances that a benefactor will respond benev-
olently again in the future, just as the expression of ingratitude can anger benefac-
tors and discourage them from acting benevolently again. Finally, gratitude serves
as moral motive because its experience motivates recipients to then behave proso-
cially or inhibit destructive behavior toward a benefactor in return or toward others.
However, the reciprocity motivation resulting from gratitude is distinct from those
sparked by indebtedness and inequity in that it is a pleasant emotion linked to posi-
tive psychological states, much like contentment, pride, and hope. McCullough et al.
(2001) found ample support in the literature for the rst two functions, and subse-
quent experiments using behavioral measures of helping provided support for the
moral motive function (Bartlett & DeSteno, 2006; Tsang, 2006).
REVIEW OF SOCIAL SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH ON GRATITUDE
The empirical research falls into three major categories: (1) how gratitude is measured
and conceptualized; (2) what kind of people tend to be grateful; and (3) how gratitude
has been and can be applied to society. A growing body of research also cuts across
these categories by focusing on the measurement of gratitude in youth, its benets
to development, and factors and interventions that promote gratitude development.
Researchers wanting to develop practical applications of gratitude to improve human
health and well-being would benet from considering these areas of research.
It seems reasonable to conclude from the available empirical evidence that grati-
tude can indeed be regarded as a moral emotion. We experience gratitude when we
acknowledge the gratuitous role sources of social support play in producing bene-
cial outcomes in our lives. Expressing gratitude to people who have been kind to
us validates their efforts and reinforces such behavior in the future. And gratitude
motivates us to extend kindness in response to those who have been kind to us but to
others as well. Therefore, people who experience and express gratitude more tend to
strengthen their existing relationships and form new supportive relationships. That
is, the more they tune in to how others have helped them along, the more they will
do the same in return; and the more frequently such exchanges occur, the more suited
relationship networks become to maximizing the mutual benets for those involved.
GRATITUDE AS AN AFFECTIVE TRAIT: MEASURES
AND CORRELATES
Researchers have derived four different facets of emotional experiences that distin-
guish people with a more grateful disposition from those with a less grateful disposi-
tion. Compared to less grateful individuals, highly grateful individuals feel gratitude
more intensely for a positive event, more frequently or more easily throughout the day;
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The Power and Practice of Gratitude 561
they have a wider span of benets or life circumstances for which they are grateful
at any given time (e.g., for their families, their jobs, friends, their health); and they
experience gratitude with greater density for any given benet (i.e., toward a more
people).
RESEARCH WITH ADULTS
In four studies, McCullough et al. (2002) broadly examined the correlates of the grate-
ful disposition and developed the GQ-6 (a six-item, self-report measure of the grateful
disposition). Highly grateful people, compared to their less grateful counterparts,
tend to experience positive emotions more often, enjoy greater satisfaction with life
and more hope, and experience less depression, anxiety, and envy. They tend to score
higher in prosociality and be more empathic, forgiving, helpful, and supportive as
well as less focused on materialistic pursuits, compared to their less grateful coun-
terparts. They replicated these ndings in a large nonstudent sample and showed
that the associations persisted even after controlling for social desirability (Paulhus,
1998). Among the Big Five dimensions of personality (John, Donahue, & Kentle, 1991),
the grateful disposition was correlated with Agreeableness, Extraversion/positive
affectivity, and Neuroticism/negative affectivity. Moreover, similar associations were
obtained using both self-report and peer-report methods.
Other researchers have come to similar conclusions (Watkins, Woodward, Stone, &
Kolts, 2003). Watkins and colleagues devised the Gratitude Resentment and Appre-
ciation Test (GRAT), a self-report measure conceptualizing dispositional gratitude as
a combination of four aspects: appreciating benefactors, valuing the experience and
expression of gratitude, sensing more abundance than deprivation in life, and appre-
ciating common simple pleasures more than extravagant ones. Scores on the GRAT
were positively related to satisfaction with life and negatively related to depression.
Two reasons gratitude is linked to reduced depression are that it helps individuals
experience more positive emotions and positively reframe negative or neutral situa-
tions (Lambert, Fincham, & Stillman, 2012).
Gratitude, whether measured as a mood or trait, is also linked to lower aggres-
sion in adults. Using various methods, DeWall, Lambert, Pole, Kashdan, and Fincham
(2012) found that grateful participants exhibited lower aggression daily, and after feel-
ing hurt or insulted, they exhibited less hurt feelings in daily interactions and less
aggressive personality. These researchers also found that increased empathy medi-
ated this link, suggesting that the prosocial quality of gratitude can be used to mitigate
aggression. Helping to explain such ndings, evidence shows that gratitude builds
trust (Dunn & Schweitzer, 2005) and that expressing gratitude increases prosocial
behavior by enabling people to feel socially valued (Grant & Gino, 2010).
Finally, research shows that gratitude promotes relationship formation and main-
tenance. One study, examining gratitude naturally in the context of college sororities’
gift-giving week (Algoe, Haidt, & Gable, 2008), found that gratitude was predicted by
new members perceiving older members to be more responsive to their needs during
the week and that this predicted their gratitude at the end of the week and conse-
quently greater relationship quality between members 1 month later. Other research
corroborates this relationship-building function, linking gratitude to more liking and
inclusiveness (Bartlett, Condon, Cruz, Baumann, & DeSteno, 2012). Evidence also
shows that gratitude boosts relationship maintenance behaviors like sensitivity and
concern (Lambert & Fincham, 2011), strengthens romantic relationships by promoting
commitment (Joel, Gordon, Impett, MacDonald, & Keltner, 2013) and feelings of con-
nection and satisfaction with relationships (Algoe, Gable, & Maisel, 2010), and makes
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562 INNER RESOURCES AND POSITIVE DEVELOPMENT ACROSS THE LIFE SPAN
for more satisfying marital relationships (C. L. Gordon, Arnette, & Smith, 2011). Thus,
gratitude appears to help individuals nd, remind, and bind to attentive relationship
partners (Algoe, 2012).
RESEARCH WITH YOUTH
In recent years, evidence shows that many similar psychological, physical, and
relational benets found with adults occur with youth, whether examined
cross-sectionally (Froh, Emmons, Card, Bono, & Wilson, 2011) or longitudinally
(Froh, Bono, & Emmons, 2010). Much of this work has focused on the effects of
gratitude on youth’s adjustment, social relationships, and psychological well-being,
with implications for positive youth development and potential for helping to turn
young people into healthy, successful adults.
In order to determine which adult measure was most appropriate in measuring
gratitude in children and adults, Froh et al. (2011) assessed the psychometric proper-
ties of the GQ-6, the Gratitude Adjective Checklist (GAC; McCullough et al., 2002),
and the GRAT–short form (Thomas & Watkins, 2003) using a sample of 1,405 youth
ages 10 to 19 years. Results showed that all three gratitude scales correlated positively.
The GRAT–short form showed low correlations with the other two scales among
younger youth (ages 10 to 13 years), suggesting that the GRAT–short form measures
something different in comparison to the GAC and the GQ-6 among younger youth.
The GQ-6 was found to perform better with youth only when using the rst ve ques-
tions (not the sixth).
In a recent longitudinal study by Bono, Froh, and Emmons (2012) 436 adolescents
(11- to 14-year-olds) completed self-report questionnaires just before entering high
school and then again 4 years later. Gratitude at Time 1 signicantly predicted greater
positive emotions, life satisfaction, and happiness and lower negative emotions and
depression at Time 2. Even stronger effects were observed when examining the
change in gratitude from Year 1 to Year 4. Increases in gratitude during high school
predicted greater increases in positive emotions, life satisfaction, and happiness at
the end of high school. Furthermore, increases in gratitude predicted less antisocial
and delinquency behavior toward the end of high school (Bono et al., 2012). That is,
teens who developed more gratitude during high school reported better behavior
at school (e.g., not cheating on tests) and lower levels of negative behaviors toward
peers (e.g., teasing, upsetting, and gossiping) when nishing high school, compared
to teens who developed less gratitude during high school.
Another longitudinal study observed adolescents’ level of social integration—their
motivation to give back to the neighborhood and society (Froh et al., 2010). Results
showed that grateful adolescents were more likely than less grateful adolescents to
report increases in social integration 6 months later, and this was partially because
of increases in life satisfaction and engagement in prosocial behaviors at 3 months.
Gratitude and social integration also were found to mutually increase each other.
Together, these ndings suggest that gratitude supports well-being and prosocial
development.
INTERVENTIONS TO PROMOTE GRATITUDE
In addition to cross-sectional and longitudinal studies, intervention studies also
provide evidence that gratitude has a variety of benets for adults and youth. This
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The Power and Practice of Gratitude 563
research has also uncovered different strategies that are effective for promoting
gratitude.
INTERVENTIONS TO INCREASE GRATITUDE IN ADULTS
Emmons and McCullough (2003) conducted a seminal study of gratitude’s effects
on psychological and physical well-being using a Counting Blessings intervention.
In one experiment, college students were randomly assigned to complete one of
three journaling conditions weekly for 10 weeks: counting blessings, listing hassles,
or describing neutral events. Participants in the gratitude condition exercised
more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about life and more
connected to others, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week than those
in the hassles or control conditions. To test if the benets resulted from gratitude
rather than just feeling better off than others, a second experiment included a
downward social comparisons condition (i.e., ways they had it better than others)
rather than a neutral events condition and had students journal about this, blessings,
or hassles daily for 2 weeks. Participants in the gratitude condition reported more
positive affect, compared to the hassles condition, and reported offering others more
emotional support or help with a personal problem, compared to those in the other
two conditions.
Finally, in a third experiment Emmons and McCullough (2003) examined if a
gratitude intervention would help adults with neuromuscular diseases. Partici-
pants assigned to describe blessings (vs. mundane experiences) daily for 3 weeks
reported more positive affect and satisfaction with life than those in the control
condition—effects observed through spouses’ reports, too. Moreover, they reported
less negative affect, feeling more connected to others, and sleeping longer and
better. This study supported the notion that gratitude can improve physical and
psychological well-being for a variety of populations.
The benets of gratitude were further conrmed in a study that compared the
efcacy of ve different interventions hypothesized to lastingly increase happiness
and decrease depression using a random-assignment placebo-controlled design
(Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005). Participants in the Three Good Things
intervention were instructed to write down three good things that had happened
to them and attribute causes to these events daily for one week. Although this
intervention showed no immediate benets, individuals experienced lasting effects
with an increase in happiness and decrease in depressive symptoms 6 months
later. Another intervention, the Gratitude Visit, had individuals write a letter to
someone they were grateful for and then deliver their letter in person. Individuals
who completed this activity reported large gains in happiness and reductions in
depression 1 month later. Though effects were short-lived, the magnitude of change
was greatest for this intervention out of the ve tested, presumably because of the
hyperemotional nature of expressing meaningful thanks.
Recent gratitude interventions harness the power of thanking by incorporating a
behavioral component. For instance, one experiment instructed participants to jour-
nal grateful experiences and share them with a partner biweekly for 4 weeks (control
participants kept a journal of grateful experience without sharing or kept a journal
of class learnings and shared them with a partner; Lambert et al., 2013). Those who
shared their positive experiences had increased positive affect, happiness, and life sat-
isfaction by the end of the intervention, compared to either of the control participants.
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564 INNER RESOURCES AND POSITIVE DEVELOPMENT ACROSS THE LIFE SPAN
Lambert and Fincham (2011) found that expressing gratitude in close relationships
produced higher comfort voicing concerns and more positive perceptions of partners.
INTERVENTIONS TO INCREASE GRATITUDE IN CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS
A pioneering intervention study attempted to see if the Counting Blessings interven-
tion done with adults (Emmons & McCullough 2003) could inuence well-being in
adolescents ages 11 to 12 (Froh, Seck, & Emmons, 2008). Eleven classrooms (N=221)
were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: gratitude, hassles, or no-treatment
control. Each day for 2 weeks, students in the gratitude condition were instructed to
list up to ve things they were grateful for in their lives. Classrooms in the hassles
condition listed annoyances. Results indicated that counting blessings was related to
higher life satisfaction, more optimism, fewer physical complaints, and less negative
affect. Students in the gratitude group reported more school satisfaction at both the
immediate posttest and at the 3-week follow-up, compared to both control groups.
Another intervention study using a similar intervention method found a link
between gratitude and prosociality in adolescents (Chaplin, Rindeisch, John,
& Froh, 2013). Sixty-one adolescents (ages 11 to 17) in a summer program were
randomly assigned to journal about blessings (intervention) or mundane activities
(control) for 2 weeks. Everyone received 10 $1 bills for participating and had the
option of keeping it for themselves or donating some or all of it to charity anony-
mously. Results showed that adolescents in the gratitude condition donated 60%
more compared to those in the control condition ($6.81 vs. $2.43). Further, they were
also more grateful and less materialistic at posttest compared to those in the control
condition.
A recent study showed that the social cognitive appraisals underlying grate-
ful thinking can be trained in children ages 8 to 11 (Froh et al., 2014). Using
a quasi-experimental design, classrooms were randomly assigned to a benet
appraisal curriculum or a control condition. The benet appraisal condition trained
students to appreciate the personal value of kind actions or gifts, the altruistic intention
of the benefactor,andthecost to the benefactor in terms of time or effort. The control
condition had students focus on mundane daily events. All sessions included
class discussions, writing assignments, and role-playing activities. Five curriculum
sessions were delivered to six classrooms daily for 1 week in one study and to four
classrooms weekly for 5 weeks in a second study. In both studies, students who
received benet appraisal training reported stronger benet appraisals and more
grateful emotion than students in the control condition. In the daily study, these
students reported immediate increases in grateful thinking and mood and also wrote
80% more thank-you cards to their Parent Teacher Association compared to control
students. In the weekly study, they reported more grateful thinking and grateful
mood, as well as more positive affect 5 months after the intervention.
This grateful thinking curriculum is advantageous because it is easier to use with
younger participants (i.e., in elementary or middle school), for whom it might not
be feasible or possible to keep a gratitude journal. Another advantage is that it can
be easily infused in existing reading/writing programs or used to personalize and
enhance lessons focused on cooperation, helping, or giving.
OBSTACLES TO PROMOTING GRATITUDE: INTERVENTION
MODERATORS
Any discussion of the benets of gratitude would be incomplete without a considera-
tion of factors that render gratitude difcult. Moderators must be examined to design
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The Power and Practice of Gratitude 565
effective gratitude interventions because some individuals may be more responsive
than others. Different people experience different amounts of gratitude depending on
the size of the gift they are accustomed to receiving and the amount of effort benefac-
tors invest (Wood, Brown, & Maltby, 2011). Thus, cultural and attitudinal factors likely
moderate gratitude’s effects on well-being. Indeed, a cross-cultural study found grat-
itude interventions focusing on family and others to be more effective in collectivist
samples, whereas those focusing on oneself were more effective with individualistic
samples (Boehm, Lyubomirsky, & Sheldon, 2011). Thus, researchers can personalize
interventions with a focus on the types of benets recipients most value (e.g., focusing
on benets that afrm, increase, or maintain harmony in relationships for interde-
pendent selves and focusing on benets that afrm, increase, or maintain personal
autonomy and achievement for independent selves).
Research is needed to better understand how the experience, expression, and con-
sequences of gratitude differ across cultures. People may be grateful for different
reasons or because of distinct determinants; ways of expressing gratitude to others
may differ; and gratitude may differentially impact mental, physical, or relational out-
comes across cultures. Understanding universal versus distinctive patterns in these
areas would advance basic knowledge about gratitude in society.
Scholars suggest that a number of attitudes are incompatible with gratitude,
including perceptions of victimhood (Seligman, 2002), inability to admit to one’s
shortcomings (Solomon, 2002), envy and resentment (Etchegoyen & Nemas, 2003),
and an overemphasis on materialistic values (Kasser, 2002). Interventions to cultivate
gratitude cannot ignore these obstacles to gratitude, for it may be necessary to
confront these on their own terms prior to initiating a gratitude focus. We may
learn that individuals with such characteristics benet more strongly from gratitude
interventions.
Some of these obstacles are likely to be deeply ingrained in personality. A major
personality variable that is likely to thwart gratitude is narcissism (Watkins et al.,
2003). People with narcissistic tendencies erroneously believe they are deserving of
special rights and privileges without assuming reciprocal responsibilities. The sense
of entitlement combined with insensitivity to the needs of others engenders inter-
personal exploitation. They might be reluctant to express gratitude in response to
benefactors whose generosity or kindness they summarily dismiss as little more than
attempts to curry favor. Farwell and Wohlwend-Lloyd (1998) found that in the con-
text of a laboratory-based interdependence game, narcissism was inversely related to
the extent to which participants experienced liking and gratitude for their partners.
In short, if one feels entitled to everything, then one is thankful for nothing.
Another possible moderator of gratitude on well-being is personal responsibility.
Chow and Lowery (2010) found that individuals do not experience gratitude with-
out the belief that they are responsible for their success, even when they acknowl-
edge that they received help. Such knowledge can be useful in improving gratitude
interventions, particularly those targeting younger populations. Indeed, longitudi-
nal evidence shows that youth who developed lots of gratitude from ages 11–14 to
ages 15–18 reported more self-respect, self-control, goals/plans for the future, and
self-regulation, compared to youth who developed little gratitude during this period
(Froh & Bono, 2014).
Research has examined moderators for gratitude interventions among youth. In
one study, children and adolescents (ages 8 to 19) were randomly assigned to either
a gratitude visit condition (writing a thank-you letter to a benefactor and then read-
ing it to the individual in person) or a control condition (describing daily events).
Students in the gratitude condition who were also low in positive affect reported
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566 INNER RESOURCES AND POSITIVE DEVELOPMENT ACROSS THE LIFE SPAN
more gratitude and positive affect at post-treatment and more positive affect at the
2-month follow-up than youths in the control condition (Froh, Kashdan, Ozimkowski,
& Miller, 2009). Therefore, youth lower in positive affect seem to benet more from
gratitude interventions.
CREATIVE APPLICATIONS FOR GRATITUDE INTERVENTIONS
Thus far, the research studies that we have reviewed were designed to examine the
effects of gratitude on well-being. It is also possible to examine changes in gratitude
as a result of interventions designed for other purposes, such as to promote mind-
fulness (Shapiro, Schwartz, & Santerre, 2002), relaxation (Khasky & Smith, 1999), or
forgiveness (Witvliet, Ludwig, & Bauer, 2002). Gratitude appears to be facilitated by
meditation practice referred to as intentional systematic mindfulness (Shapiro et al.,
2002). In another research program, progressive muscle relaxation has been shown
to produce a number of positive emotional benets, including among them increased
feelings of love and thankfulness (Khasky & Smith, 1999). Lastly, Witvliet et al. (2002)
found that a forgiveness intervention, such as imagining oneself being forgiven by
someone, resulted in increased feelings of gratitude. These studies demonstrate that
a number of innovative psychological interventions have the capacity to engender
states of gratitude and its attendant benets, though they were not designed explicitly
for this purpose.
One particular type of psychotherapy originating in Japan, known as Naikan ther-
apy, is based in Buddhist philosophy and mobilizes techniques of isolation and medi-
tation to expand clients’ awareness of their moral relationships with signicant others
in their lives. Currently, there are about 40 Naikan centers in Japan, as well as centers
in Austria, Germany, and the United States (Krech, 2002). The overall aim of Naikan
therapy is to have clients achieve interpersonal balance by realizing a deep sense of
connection with the signicant others in their lives and to experience a strong sense
of gratitude toward people who have provided them with benets (Hedstrom, 1994;
Reynolds, 1983). It is notable that this form of therapy, based so strongly in gratitude,
has been used to treat many disorders too—including anorexia nervosa (Morishita,
2000), alcoholism (Suwaki, 1985), neuroses, and personality disorders (Sakuta, Shirat-
suchi, Kimura, & Abe, 1997)—and it has been applied to the rehabilitation of prisoners
and counseling in school and business settings (Krech, 2002).
USE OF GRATITUDE IN CLINICAL THERAPY
Researchers have suggested ways that gratitude interventions can be used in thera-
peutic settings and reasons why this would be benecial (Bono & McCullough, 2006;
Duckworth, Steen, & Seligman, 2005; Seligman, Rashid, & Parks, 2006). More stud-
ies are needed though comparing gratitude inductions against true neutral control
conditions rather than conditions focused on hassles (Wood, Froh, & Geraghty, 2010).
This will allow researchers to more accurately assess intervention effects. Wood et al.
(2010) also recommend that experiments use clinical samples to examine if gratitude
interventions could treat mental disorders better than other existing therapies.
Psychologists are increasingly considering the use of gratitude strategies to treat
clients experiencing depression, substance abuse, or bereavement (Young & Hutchin-
son, 2012). Other studies have found that gratitude listing was as effective as daily
automatic thought records for treating people with severe body image dissatisfac-
tion (Geraghty, Wood, & Hyland, 2010a) or people with generalized anxiety (Ger-
aghty, Wood, & Hyland, 2010b), compared to a waitlist control. Importantly, these
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The Power and Practice of Gratitude 567
researchers found that patients were 2 times more likely to remain in the gratitude
treatment than in the automatic thought record treatment. Such ndings corroborate
earlier research showing that being more thankful in the practice of religion can pro-
tect people from both internalizing (e.g., depression and anxiety) and externalizing
(e.g., substance abuse) disorders (Kendler et al., 2003).
Sergeant and Mongrain (2011) examined the use of gratitude exercises with two
depressive personality types: self-critical individuals and needy individuals. Individ-
uals were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: gratitude listing, listening to
uplifting music, or writing about childhood memories (control). Participants com-
pleted these interventions daily for 1 week and follow-up assessment was conducted
1, 3, and 6 months later. Interestingly, the gratitude music exercises only beneted the
self-critical individuals; they reported increases in self-esteem and decreases in phys-
ical symptoms. Needy individuals reported decreases in happiness and increases in
physical symptomology as a result of the gratitude and music exercises. These nd-
ings suggest that the use of gratitude exercises in treatment with clinical populations
can be detrimental to certain personality types (Sergeant & Mongrain, 2011).
USING GRATITUDE TO IMPROVE COPING AND RESILIENCY
Gratitude can be therapeutically useful for populations without mental disorders but
may be experiencing stress, such as coping with lifelong disease or traumatic events.
For example, Algoe and Stanton (2011) found that the experience and expression of
gratitude may help patients with metastatic breast cancer nd improved quality of life
by tapping into sources of social support. Another study found that gratitude was a
powerful emotion for coping with the tragic events of September 11, 2001 (Fredrick-
son, Tugade, Waugh, & Larkin, 2003). Such ndings are consistent with the view that
positive emotions broaden the scope of individuals’ thoughts and generate upward
spirals of improved coping and functioning (Fredrickson, 2001).
McAdams and Bauer’s (2004) analyses of redemption sequences revealed that even
painful experiences could become something for which people are ultimately grate-
ful. Therefore, gratitude will likely play a valuable role in improving peoples’ lives as
such therapeutic applications are developed.
There is evidence that gratitude may play a signicant role in coping and resiliency
among youth, too. A study of newspaper accounts about what children were thank-
ful for before and after the September 11 event found that their thankfulness for
basic human needs, such as family, friends, and teachers, increased (A. K. Gordon,
Musher-Eizenman, Holub, & Dalrymple, 2004). This suggests gratitude helps buffer
children from adverse events as it does with adults.
Beyond solidifying social resources, gratitude may lend humans strength for other
reasons. Researchers have identied sustained patterns of physiological coherence
that operate during feelings of appreciation, suggesting mechanisms for such
positive psychosocial outcomes. By physiological coherence they refer to the degree
of order, stability, and efciency generated by the body’s oscillatory systems—such
as heart rhythms, respiratory rhythms, blood pressure oscillations, low frequency
brain rhythms, craniosacral rhythms, electrical skin potentials, and rhythms in the
digestive system (McCraty, Atkinson, Tomasino, Bradley, 2009). The more people
experience sincere feelings of appreciation, the more this coherence emerges, reinforc-
ing coherent patterns in the neural architecture as a familiar reference for the brain.
Given such ndings, McCraty and Childre (2004) developed techniques for focusing
attention to the area around the heart (the subjective site of positive emotions) and
simultaneously engaging in intentional self-inductions of positive emotional states,
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568 INNER RESOURCES AND POSITIVE DEVELOPMENT ACROSS THE LIFE SPAN
such as appreciation. Such techniques may be useful tools for interventions seeking
to increase gratitude in individuals; that these interventions employ techniques
similar to other mind–body interventions may make them particularly useful for
fostering gratitude as an attitude or mind-set.
HOW IS GRATITUDE RELATED TO THE GOOD LIFE?
When considering how gratitude is related to the good life, it is useful to bear in mind
the various populations that have been shown to benet from gratitude.
BENEFITS TO ADULTS
We have already seen that people suffering from tragic events, deadly diseases, or
serious mental illness appear to cope better as a result of gratitude. Similarly, we saw
that gratitude helps individuals form and strengthen social, romantic, and marital
relationships. Research has also shown that expressions of gratitude can reinforce
kidney donation (Bernstein & Simmons, 1974) and volunteering behavior toward peo-
ple with HIV/AIDS (Bennett, Ross, & Sunderland, 1996), and eld experiments have
shown that mere thank-you notes can bring increased tips from customers (Rind &
Bordia, 1995), higher response rates on mail surveys (Maheux, Legault, & Lambert,
1989), and more visits from case managers in a residential treatment program (Clark,
Northrop, & Barkshire, 1988).
Gratitude interventions have been effective with undergraduate students, adults
with neuromuscular diseases, and clinical patients. Use of Naikan psychotherapy
techniques suggest that gratitude mind-sets may help students and employees to
resolve interpersonal conicts, prisoners to rehabilitate, and people to recover from
various disorders. Finally, appreciation interventions have also shown that people (of
various ages and religious afliations) in organizational, educational, and health-care
settings may likewise benet from experiences of gratitude as well (Childre & Cryer,
2000). Informally, church organizations and self-help groups for years have relied on
gratitude exercises to help empower individuals.
WHY GRATITUDE MAY BEACRITICAL INGREDIENT IN POSITIVE YOUTH DEVELOPMENT
Positive youth development (PYD) theory emphasizes the importance of fostering
young people’s potential for growth by providing them with opportunities and sup-
portive environments that help build up their strengths (Benson, Scales, Hamilton, &
Semsa, 2006). The theory suggests that ve strengths are essential for optimal youth
development: competence (or a positive view of one’s skills), condence (or overall
self-worth), connection (or positive bonds with people, groups, or communities), char-
acter (or respect for societal/cultural rules and sense of integrity and morality), and
caring and compassion (having sympathy and empathy for others; Lerner et al., 2005).
PYD theory stresses the importance of youth contributing to their own strengths and
development, and, in turn, giving back to the people, groups, institutions, or commu-
nities that nurture them (Benson et al., 2006).
Whether bolstered through intervention or measured naturally, the evidence
provided earlier suggests that gratitude plays a strong role in PYD. It promotes
the strength of caring and compassion for all parties involved in benecial social
exchanges. It supports the strengths of connection and character by virtue of the
three moral functions (motive, barometer, and reinforcer). Finally, because gratitude
counters hedonic penchants associated with materialism and promotes intrinsic
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The Power and Practice of Gratitude 569
motivation and self-improvement, it should therefore also support the strength of
competence. Recent longitudinal evidence supports the idea that gratitude develop-
ment is strongly associated with PYD. Adolescents who entered high school with a
moderate amount of gratitude and exhibited steady gains during high school also
reported experiencing more empathy, self-awareness, self-efcacy, self-regulation,
and goals for the future, and a stronger sense of identication with their community
and a motivation to improve society by the end of high school (Bono, Froh, Emmons,
& Card, 2013).
GUIDELINES FOR THE EMPIRICAL STUDY OF GRATITUDE
AND GRATITUDE INTERVENTIONS
To evaluate gratitude interventions and their effectiveness, researchers should adhere
to several guidelines. Most importantly, if researchers wish to foster well-being by
increasing people’s gratitude, it is important to make sure that the intervention is
actually successful in fostering gratitude. The degree of gratitude that participants
experience can be measured in terms intensity, frequency, span, and density (McCul-
lough et al., 2002). Including the GQ-6 (McCullough et al., 2002) or the GRAT (Watkins
et al., 2003) in the battery of dependent variables will assist to this end. Gratitude as a
component of daily emotional and mood experience can also help evaluate interven-
tion effects in everyday life (see McCullough, Tsang, & Emmons, 2004).
Second, intervention methods matter. Diary techniques have proved useful for
inducing individuals to focus on and experience gratitude (Emmons & McCullough,
2003). Having participants write about positive events and people in their lives, or
even writing letters to people to whom they feel grateful, may also be useful to this
end (Watkins et al., 2003). Behavioral expressions of thanks are especially potent in
changing people’s subjective well-being. Finally, to achieve sustainable intervention
effects, researchers should ensure that methods meaningfully engage participants by
having them know about, endorse, and commit to the intervention (Lyubomirsky,
Dickerhoof, Boehm, & Sheldon, 2011).
Third, researchers are advised to measure dependent variables that reect the dif-
ferent ways gratitude might inuence participants and their relationships with others
(McCullough et al., 2002). To assess individual outcomes, researchers should measure
dependent variables corresponding to the different ways gratitude has been shown
to benet children, adolescents, and adults in terms of well-being (i.e., positive and
negative affect, anxiety, depression, satisfaction with life, hope, etc.), prosociality (i.e.,
how much others help them and they help others), and their health and development.
Research has just started to uncover how individuals benet from increased gratitude.
Perhaps different relationships benet in different ways or degrees? Researchers may
further assess the effects of gratitude on health and well-being by examining how
gratitude buffers targets from various life stressors and bestows improved coping
and decision making. The use of daily diary methods may be the best way to assess
such individual, relational, and health outcomes.
FUTURE DIRECTIONS FOR RESEARCH ON GRATITUDE
AND GRATITUDE INTERVENTIONS
An important setting for adult gratitude applications is the workplace. Emmons
(2003) proposed several ways gratitude can benet organizations. Most directly, as
a cognitive strategy, gratitude can improve individual well-being and lower toxic
emotions in the workplace, such as resentment and envy. Moods are important
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570 INNER RESOURCES AND POSITIVE DEVELOPMENT ACROSS THE LIFE SPAN
determiners of efciency, productivity, success, and employee loyalty. Evidence
demonstrates that employee happiness and well-being are positively linked to
performance, commitment, and morale, and negatively linked to absenteeism,
burnout, and turnover (e.g., Wright & Staw, 1999). As society increasingly relies on
teamwork and the harnessing of individuals’ diverse strengths to achieve group
and organizational goals, gratitude is an easy way to buffer individuals from stress
and facilitate the mutual achievements of individuals, groups, and organizations
(Emmons, 2003).
Although gratitude has been linked to positive youth development and well-being,
applications in the school setting are lacking. Researchers should further investigate
this population and gratitude’s potential benets for schools and other educational
settings. Why wait until adulthood to begin to reap the benets of grateful living?
Gratitude leads to many positive outcomes of central importance in youth devel-
opment (e.g., well-being, prosocial relationships, improved motivation, satisfaction
with school, and a focus on priorities and planning for the future). Therefore, apply-
ing gratitude in schools promises to advance student learning and engagement with
school. Gratitude can easily complement social emotional learning programs and may
enhance bullying and character education programs, helping to improve school cli-
mate in general. Promoting gratitude early in development will undoubtedly produce
many benets for individuals and society.
CONCLUSION
Gratitude shows surprisingly few downsides. That people typically consider grati-
tude a virtue and not simply a pleasure also points to the fact that it does not always
come naturally or easily. Gratitude must, and can, be cultivated. And by cultivating
this virtue, people not only get to experience its pleasure but all of its other atten-
dant benets, too, for free. As this chapter demonstrates, gratitude can produce many
advantages for society.
Through gratitude individuals nd coherence in life. They learn to elevate others
and make a difference in the world. Like the moral memory of humankind (Simmel,
1950), gratitude reects the story of the best that individuals and societies could be.
We hope this chapter helps readers appreciate how gratitude can be used to improve
ourselves and to inch us toward a better world.
SUMMARY POINTS
Gratitude serves as three moral functions: a moral barometer, a moral reinforcer,
and a moral motive. Individuals with grateful personalities feel gratitude more
intensely, more frequently, more densely (toward more people), and for a wider
span of benets.
To test for effectiveness of interventions, researchers should consider if gratitude
is increased in terms of intensity, frequency, density, and span.
To be effective intervention methods (i.e., diary of gratitude, behavioral expres-
sions of thanks) should meaningfully engage participants by having them know
about, endorse, and commit to the intervention.
Researchers should measure dependent variables corresponding to the different
ways gratitude has been shown to benet children, adolescents, and adults in
terms of well-being, prosociality, and their health and development.
Cultural and attitudinal factors (e.g., materialism, resentment) likely moderate
gratitude’s effects on well-being. Research is needed to better understand how
the experience, expression, and consequences of gratitude differ across cultures.
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The Power and Practice of Gratitude 571
Researchers can personalize interventions with a focus on the types of benets
recipients most value (e.g., focusing on benets that afrm, increase, or maintain
harmony in relationships for interdependent selves).
Personality characteristics such as narcissism, low personal responsibility, and
low positive affect (in youth populations) may prevent gratitude. Such knowl-
edge can be useful in improving gratitude interventions in the future.
A number of innovative psychological interventions have the capacity to engen-
der states of gratitude and its attendant benets, though they were not designed
explicitly for this purpose (e.g., meditation practice).
Gratitude interventions can be used in therapeutic settings. It is recommended
that experiments use clinical samples to examine if gratitude interventions could
treat mental disorders better than other existing therapies. Gratitude can also
benet populations who do not have mental disorders but suffer from severe
stress/adversity, disease, or trauma.
Important settings for future applications with adults include the workplace
because gratitude can facilitate the mutual achievements of individuals,
groups, and organizations. Similarly, researchers should investigate if gratitude
applications with children have such effects on schools and other educational
settings.
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