Highlights from the Research Project on
Gratitude and Thankfulness
Dimensions and Perspectives of Gratitude Co-Investigators:
Robert A. Emmons, University of California, Davis
(contact: email@example.com; 530.752.8844)
Michael E. McCullough, University of Miami
(contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 305.284.8057)
Synopsis. Gratitude is the “forgotten factor” in happiness research. We are engaged in a long-term research project designed to create and disseminate a large body of novel scientific data on the nature of gratitude, its causes, and its potential consequences for human health and well-being. Scientists are latecomers to the concept of gratitude. Religions and philosophies have long embraced gratitude as an indispensable manifestation of virtue, and an integral component of health, wholeness, and well-being.Through conducting highly focused, cutting-edge studies on the nature of gratitude, its causes, and its consequences, we hope to shed important scientific light on this important concept. This document is intended to provide a brief, introductory overview of the major findings to date of the research project. For further information, please
We are engaged in three main lines of inquiry at the present time: (1) developing methods to cultivate gratitude in daily life, (2) developing a measure to reliably assess individual differences in dispositional gratefulness and (3) designing experimental studies that enable us to distinguish the differential causes and consequences of gratitude and indebtedness.
This project is supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation of Radnor, PA.
Gratitude Interventions and Psychological and Physical Well-Being
- In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events (Emmons &McCullough, 2003).
- A related benefit was observed in the realm of personal goal attainment:Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions.
- A daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison (ways in which participants thought they were better off than others). There was no difference in levels of unpleasant emotions reported in the three groups.
- Participants in the daily gratitude condition were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another, relative to the hassles or social comparison condition.
- In a sample of adults with neuromuscular disease, a 21-day gratitude intervention resulted in greater amounts of high energy positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others, more optimistic ratings of one’s life, and better sleep duration and sleep quality, relative to a control group.
Measuring the Grateful Disposition
- Most people report being grateful (average rating of nearly 6 on a 7 point scale).
- Well-Being: Grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress.The disposition toward gratitude appears to enhance pleasant feeling states more than it diminishes unpleasant emotions.Grateful people do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life.
- Prosociality: People with a strong disposition toward gratitude have the capacity to be empathic and to take the perspective of others. They are rated as more generous and more helpful by people in their social networks (McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang, 2002).
- Spirituality: Those who regularly attend religious services and engage in religious activities such as prayer reading religious material score are more likely to be grateful. Grateful people are more likely to acknowledge a belief in the interconnectedness of all life and a commitment to and responsibility to others (McCullough et. al., 2002).
- Materialism: Grateful individuals place less importance on material goods; they are less likely to judge their own and others success in terms of possessions accumulated; they are less envious of wealthy persons; and are more likely to share their possessions with others relative to less grateful persons.
Distinguishing Between Gratefulness and Indebtedness
- In a narrative study, people who write about being indebted to others reports higher levels of anger and lower levels of appreciation, happiness, and love relative to people who write about being grateful to others (Gray & Emmons, 2000).
- The experience of indebtedness is less likely to lead to a desire to approach or make contact with others relative to an experience of gratefulness.Thus, indebtedness tends to be an aversive psychological state that is distinct from gratitude.
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues, but the parent of all others.” ~ Cicero
“A noble person is mindful and thankful of the favours he receives from others.” ~ the Buddha
“Gratitude is the moral memory of mankind.” ~ Georg Simmel
Emmons, R.A., & McCullough, M.E. (2003).Counting blessings versus burdens:Experimental studies of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal ofPersonality and Social Psychology, 84, 377-389.
Emmons, R.A. (in press). Gratitude. In M.E.P. Seligman & C. Peterson (Eds.), The VIA taxonomy of human strengths and virtues.
New York:Oxford University Press.
Emmons, R.A. (2003). Acts of gratitude in organizations. In K. S. Cameron, J. E. Dutton, & R. E. Quinn (Eds.), Positive organizational scholarship (pp. 81-93). San Francisco: Berrett- Koehler Publishers.
Emmons, R.A., McCullough, M.E., & Tsang, J. (2003). The assessment of gratitude. In S. Lopez & C.R. Snyder (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology assessment (pp. 327-342)
Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Emmons, R.A. & Hill, J. (2001). Words of gratitude for mind, body, and soul. Radnor, PA: Templeton Foundation Press.
Emmons, R.A. & Shelton, C.S. (2001). Gratitude and the science of positive psychology.In C.R. Snyder and S.J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.
Emmons, R.A. (2001). Gratitude and mind-body health. Spirituality and Medicine Connection, 5, 1-7.
Emmons, R.A., & Crumpler, C.A. (2000). Gratitude as a human strength:Appraising the evidence. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 19, 56-69.
McCulloughM.E., Emmons, R.A., & Tsang, J. (2002).
The grateful disposition: A conceptual and empirical topography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 112-127.
McCullough, M.E., Kirkpatrick, S., Emmons, R.A., & Larson, D. (2001). Is gratitude a moral affect? Psychological Bulletin, 127, 249-266.
McCullough, M.E., Tsang, J.T., & Emmons, R.A. (in press). Gratitude in intermediate affective terrain.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.