The research on gratitude
Gratitude is associated with happiness and a state of well-being. Throughout cultures and religions gratefulness is considered a noble and desirable disposition. Giving and receiving a heartfelt “Thank you” just feels good. At least I don’t recall seeing a troubled face on someone experiencing gratitude. So we all have an idea that gratitude might be good on a personal level as well as in society as a whole. But is there rigorous research to back this up?
Within the blooming field of positive psychology, the number of studies on gratitude is rapidly increasing in the last decade. Gratitude journaling is a useful intervention for researchers to measure a change in subjective personal well-being and levels of happiness. Here I would like to present some of the impressive findings on gratitude.
One of the first studies to cause a sensation in the field was in 2003 by Michael E. McCullough and Robert A. Emmons. The subjects were divided in three groups and were asked to keep a weekly gratitude journal, burdens journal and neutral journal respectively for nine weeks. The people in the grateful group reported increased well-being, felt life was better, were more optimistic, exercised more, had better health conditions and behaved more pro-socially.
In another study by Martin Seligman et. al. participants were asked to conduct a ‘gratitude visit’. They wrote and delivered a letter to someone who had helped them substantially at some time in their lives. On average the people reported an immediate increase of happiness and a reduction in depressive symptoms.
There are many more studies that support the benefits of inviting gratitude into daily life. Here you can find further reading: The blog happier human has links and summaries to more studies on gratitude. The site greater good has interviews with the famous gratitude researcher Robert Emmons and many links for research on the topic.