I wrote, in Heart Opportunity Knocking — At Your Door!, of the power of consciously invoking the emotions of gratitude and appreciation and love as tools for shifting our experience of life. And now this research project has timely arrived into my life. Summary: develop a practice or discipline of gratefulness and change your life.
In a Science Today audio interview however, Researcher Robert Emmons points out regarding the Science of Thanksgiving:
“Emmons said anyone can cultivate a more grateful approach to life, but he warns that the effort is not for the “intellectually lethargic.”
“Far from being a warm, fuzzy sentiment, gratitude is morally and intellectually demanding,” he says. “It requires contemplation, reflection and discipline. It can be hard and painful work.”
Read on for more specific details and tools.
Dimensions and Perspectives of Gratitude
Co-Investigators: Robert A. Emmons, University of California, Davis
Michael E. McCullough, University of Miami
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 contact Robert Emmons. This project is supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.
We are engaged in two main lines of inquiry at the present time: (1) developing methods to cultivate gratitude in daily life and assess gratitude’s effect on well-being, and (2) developing a measure to reliably assess individual differences in dispositional gratefulness.
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.
- Children who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and their families (Froh, Sefick, & Emmons, 2008).
Measuring the Grateful Disposition
- Most people report being grateful (an 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). Gratitude does not require religious faith, but faith enhances the ability to be grateful.
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 others; and are more likely to share their possessions with others relative to less grateful persons.
Note: See the original article linked above for resource and contact information.