Gratitude, In Research

“Gratitude is the positive emotion one feels when another person has intentionally given, or attempted to give, one something of value.” (McCullough, Kilpatrick, Emmons, & Larson, 2001)

It drives prosocial behavior—actions that increase the net well-being of a group—even more than just being in a good mood does (Bartlett & DeSteno, 2006). It also occasionally prompts research that offers this analysis:

As predicted, a planned contrast revealed that participants in the gratitude condition felt more grateful (M 5 3.08, SD 5 1.08) than did those in the amusement (M 5 2.72, SD 5 1.09) and neutral (M 5 2.52, SD 5 0.84) conditions, F(1, 102) 5 4.54, prep 5 .88, d 5 0.52.2 Similarly, those in the amusement condition felt more amused (M 5 3.58, SD 5 1.20) than did those in the gratitude (M 5 2.52, SD 5 0.99) and neutral (M 5 2.40, SD 5 1.14) conditions.

But it’s driven by intention; we’ll be more grateful to those who intended to help us than those who accidentally improved our lives. Here, intent is fucking magic. ….Or at least, it is for the 126 men who predicted that they’d be more grateful to an intentional benefactor after reading short stories about being helped. Sometimes we settle for approximations of answers, as produced by psychology students. (Tesser, Gatewood, Driver, 1968)

And gratitude is protective; a thankful disposition is negatively correlated with depression: the more grateful you are, the less likely you are to exhibit subclinical or clinical levels of depression. But gratitude exhibits odd relationships: it shows no relation to level of anxiety. Recognizing good in your life might make you anxious for the future, or comfortable that you’ve achieved The Good Life. (Watkins, et al., 2003)

Some of us signal gratitude by reciprocating when someone has been thoughtful:

Although much of the early empirical work focused on gratitude as a mechanism for exchanging costly benefits (one could call this an economic perspective), recent evidence suggests that gratitude often serves a broader social function, namely, promoting relationships with responsive others. We recently demonstrated that the two most robust predictors of gratitude were the perception that the benefactor was being responsive to the needs and wishes of the recipient (i.e., thoughtful), and liking the benefit. (Algoe & Haidt, 2009)

And some of us express our gratitude by writing blog posts about the research of our emotions on Thanksgiving.

So today, I am grateful for Jesse and Miri and Robby and Chana and Mitch. For whimsy and foot massages and open access journals. For libraries (and books I can download for free)and hot water and candles. For late nights lost in good conversation and quiet early mornings. For watching extraordinary people accomplish extraordinary things. For curiosities and joyous occasions, and the people who share will share theirs with me.

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