Research – Gratitude 2017-01-13T13:42:54+00:00

Research – Gratitude

Martin Seligman, the founding father of Positive Psychology, along with Steen, Park and Peterson tested five different exercises to see what interventions, if any, had a lasting, positive impact on people’s wellbeing. Participants who noted for a week three things that went well that day (and the causes behind this) saw an increase in their happiness and decrease in depressive symptoms lasting six months. Those who wrote a gratitude letter and delivered it to the recipient in person saw the greatest positive effect upon their happiness levels one month later.

Read the study here:

Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions

(If you have any problems following links in our research, then please copy and paste the text from our footnote* into your browser top bar)

Robert Emmons, a Professor of Psychology at the University of California, is a leading practitioner in positive psychology and, in particular, gratitude. His studies have found that keeping a gratitude diary will lead to individuals becoming happier and healthier, motivated to spend more time exercising, as well as to build social resources that strengthen relationships and promote pro-social actions. Those counting their blessings daily offered more emotional support to others. Those who recorded their thanks nightly had a positive impact upon their sleep. Not only did participants of his studies feel more optimistic in general but their spouses did too.

In his book Thanks: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier (2007), Emmons suggests there are Ten Steps to Gratitude.

You can find a couple of his studies following these links:

Why gratitude enhances well-being: What we know, what we need to know

Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life

Philip Watkins, Professor of Psychology at Eastern Washington University, specialises in the study of gratitude from a clinical psychologist’s perspective. Watkins and colleagues found by amplifying the good in one’s life through counting three things you’re thankful for each day can train people’s thinking in ways that enhance future happiness and wellbeing: enhancing the positive in emotional experiences, positively impacting people’s abilities to cope with challenging times, improving relationships, and improving cognitive processes. A grateful person is also rated as more likeable and someone that can be relied on in times of need.

Watkins also found depression is strongly inversely related to gratitude with clinically depressed individuals showing significantly lower gratitude levels than non-depressed controls (nearly 50% less).

See some of Watkins’ work below:

Grateful recounting enhances subjective well-being: The importance of grateful processing

Gratitude and Happiness: Development of a Measure of Gratitude, and Relationships with Subjective Well-Being

Steven M. Toepfer and Kathleen Walker found writing three letters of gratitude over 8 weeks, about non-trivial matters, positively impacted the happiness in their participants. Writing for just 10-15 minutes (the average writing time for 35% of their participants) and at one page in length (53% average size of the sample) was enough to make this positive change.

Here’s the study for further details:

Letters of Gratitude: Improving Well-Being through Expressive Writing

Jeffrey Froh et al. found that adolescents who don’t generally experience positive emotions showed a significant boost in positive emotions two months after writing a gratitude letter and making a gratitude visit:

Here’s the study for further details:

Who benefits the most from gratitude intervention in children and adolescents? Examining positive affect as a moderator

Watch this video by SoulPancake to see the gratitude letter writing exercise put into practice:

The Science of Happiness: An Experiment in Gratitude

Further Interesting Research

In an extensive review of previous research, Alex Wood, Jeffrey Froh, and Adam Geraghty conclude that gratitude is relevant to clinical psychology due to (a) its “strong explanatory power in understanding well-being”, and (b) the potential there is to improve the well-being in those who wish to, through “fostering gratitude with simple exercises”.

Read the review here:

Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration

Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist renowned for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction, has found that unless a couple is able to maintain a high ratio of positive to negative encounters (5:1 or greater) then the marriage is likely to end. He has correctly predicted this outcome over 90% of the time when spending just 3 minutes with a couple.

The best way to create a positive ratio, according to Gottman, is to practise gratitude in marriage and have a goal with your partner of practising five blessings for every complaint.

Read more on this research here:

The Gottman Institute – Research

 

Glenn Fox et al. from the University of Southern California found that brains of those who experience higher levels of gratitude show enhanced activity in two primary regions: the anterior cingulate cortex, and the medial prefrontal cortex. These areas are associated with emotional processing, interpersonal bonding and rewarding social interactions, moral judgment, and the ability to understand the mental states of others.

See the images and learn more here:

Neural correlates of gratitude

David Snowdon, professor in the Department of Neurology at the University of Kentucky Medical School, with colleagues Deborah Danner and Wallace Friesen, followed 180 Catholic nuns over a period of 60 years. The authors found those who expressed more positive emotional content in autobiographies written in their early years, including greater contentment, gratitude, happiness, hope and love, were more likely to be alive six decades later.

Read the Nun Study in full here:

Positive Emotions in Early Life and Longevity

Footnote*

(If you have any problems following links in our research, then please copy and paste the text below relating to the article you wish to see into your browser top bar)

Martin Selignman
Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions
http://dev.rickhanson.net/wp-content/files/papers/PosPsyProgress.pdf

Robert Emmons
Robert Emmons Book – Thanks: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier
https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Thanks.html?id=tGCcH2l4jUUC

Why gratitude enhances well-being: What we know, what we need to know
http://emmons.faculty.ucdavis.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/90/2015/08/2011_2-16_Sheldon_Chapter-16-11.pdf

Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life
http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/pdfs/GratitudePDFs/6Emmons-BlessingsBurdens.pdf

Philip Watkins
Grateful recounting enhances subjective well-being: The importance of grateful processing
http://www.researchgate.net/publication/271622624_Grateful_recounting_enhances_subjective_well-being_The_importance_of_grateful_processing

Gratitude and Happiness: Development of a Measure of Gratitude, and Relationships with Subjective Well-Being
http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/pdfs/GratitudePDFs/5Watkins-GratitudeHappiness.pdf

Steven M. Toepfer and Kathleen Walker
Letters of Gratitude: Improving Well-Being through Expressive Writing
http://www.jowr.org/articles/vol1_3/JoWR_2009_vol1_nr3_Toepfer_Walker.pdf

Jeffrey Froh et al.
Who benefits the most from gratitude intervention in children and adolescents? Examining positive affect as a moderator
http://people.hofstra.edu/jeffrey_j_froh/fall 2009 web/froh article PDF_JOPP final proof-1.pdf

Video – The Science of Happiness: An Experiment in Gratitude

Alex Wood, Jeffrey Froh, and Adam Geraghty
Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration
http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/pdfs/GratitudePDFs/2Wood-GratitudeWell-BeingReview.pdf

Dr. John Gottman
he Gottman Institute – Research

Glenn Fox et al
Neural correlates of gratitude
http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01491/abstract

David Snowdon, Deborah Danner and Wallace Friesen
Positive Emotions in Early Life and Longevity
http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/psp805804.pdf