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"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity.... It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow." Melodie Beatie.

Gratitude is an important and fairly well researched area of positive psychology. Most of the current research holds that being grateful for events and things that happen in our lives can have a positive impact on wellbeing. Throughout the course of this wiki we will give you a quick introduction to the area of gratitude. We believe gratitude seems to be divided into three main sections:

1. Self regulation; Being grateful allows us to regulate our ability to understand when we appreciate things others do for us and also when others appreciate things we do for them. For example, if we give a small child a present it is good to know if they like it so we know for next time. Children's reactions are generally very reflective of how they actually feel whereas adults can mask their reactions in order to avoid hurting our feelings. We can generally believe feedback from a child's reaction and this feedback makes the donation more effective.

2. Acknowledgement; Parts of life consist of doing favours that may never get returned. The idea of reciprocity (receiving public gratitude) maintains social relationships.

3. Be grateful for things you dont control but value; Often the actions of others are outwith our control. Despite this, it has been shown that being grateful for others actions can not only benefit ourselves but other people aswell. This is discussed later on in the wiki.

If You're Only Going to Read One Paper, We Reccommend...

Emmons, R. A., & Mc Cullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377–389.

The History of Gratitude

'Gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues, but the parent of all the others.' Cicero

All the way through history, gratitude and appreciation has been given a crucial and central position in all the world religions and many philosophical discussions and theories. It is believed that gratitude is fundamental to understanding people their relationships and the operations of society (Wood et al 2008).

In the main world religions Christianity, Islam and Judaism expressing thankfulness to God infuse teachings, texts and prayers. In such religions God is the ultimate giver and human beings have to react properly with grateful affect (Joseph 2007). Evidence from religious texts is given below to show the importance of gratitude and how it has been a crucial teaching for many centuries. In Islam, the Quran states “the first who will be summoned to paradise are those who praised God in every circumstance”. Nearly all psalms in the Bible focus on the expression of thanksgiving towards God including some of the following quotations “give thanks unto thee, O Lord,and sing praises unto thy name.” Psalms 18.48 and “ Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay your vows unto the most High" .Psalms 50.14” These examples show how gratitude has been enforced in believers and because religion has been around almost throughout mankind’s existence they are very much associated with one another.

Even though gratitude and thanks giving has an apparent holy and spiritual connotation there is also what is know as theistic gratitude, that is to say moral philosophy. As the quotation at the beginning of this section shows, philosophers have counted gratitude as amongst one of the most important virtues, and an essential element for the ethical and moral personality. One leading philosopher on the matter is Adam Smith who has written extensively on the subject of gratitude, he states in this 1976 book that; “thankfulness is a vital civic virtue absolutely essential for the healthy functioning of society, motivating reciprocation of aid when no other legal or economic incentive encouraged its repayment”.

However despite this recognition of the importance of gratitude by history and philosophical thoughts, Psychology has very much neglected gratitude until recent times (Mc Collough et al. 2001). Within the last decade there have been a significantly large number of published researches. Many speculate that this has been the case because Psychology in the past generally concentrated considerably more on negative emotions such as distress, aggression and sadness rather than positive emotions like gratitude happiness and wellbeing. Furthermore positive emotional states have been brought to our attention increasingly by the positive Psychology movement (Mc Collough 2004).

Prayers of gratitude; although this is a fairly obvious one it is very important in a lot of cultures. People pray in times of distress and also in gratitude. As said by Leroy Paige, "Don't pray when it rains if you don't pray when the sun shines."

Saying thank you to people; As discussed later there is examples of who can reap the benefits of expressing gratitude. By saying thank you both the person getting thanked and the person saying thank you stand to benefit.

Creating a culture of gratitude within a business; within the business area employees work harder and are possibly more satisfied within their jobs if their employers show them gratitude.

It is also possible that we could look at the idea of gratitude in relation to ancient gods. Take for example the Greek gods, people believed that good things would happen to them if they were grateful to the gods and if they didn’t worship them bad things would happen.

Practical Exercises

'As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.' John F. Kennedy

Research suggests that instead of adopting a negative outlook on life, a more positive outlook should be employed. By focusing on the aspects of life that we are grateful for instead of those aspects we feel burdened by or feel negatively about could improve our well being and our attitude towards life.

Furthermore, research has shown that people who identify and express their gratitude regularly are more likely to have a more positive outlook on life (Walker & Pitts, 1998), to help others as well as being less stressed and more satisfied with life (Wood et al, 2008). In addition, grateful people have better coping strategies, cope better with life transitions (Wood et al, 2007) and have even been shown to sleep better (Wood et al, 2009). Expressing gratitude has surprisingly wide ranging benefits to both the recipient and the person conveying appreciation.

With such compelling research demonstrating that grateful people tend to experience such positive effects of being grateful, strategies should be employed in daily life to encourage ourselves to be more grateful. Practical exercises in the field of gratitude involve explicitly expressing and reflecting on the things we have to be grateful for in our lives.

Below are some examples of such exercises:

1. Counting Your Blessings
This involves keeping a 'count your blessings' journal and writing around 3-5 things in your day or your life which you have been or are grateful for. This can be done in a blank note book or on a blog online. By completing this exercise everyday, feelings of gratitude will be identified, reinforced and reflected upon. Besides studies show increases in happiness and decreases in depression. Furthermore, a gratitude journal creates a source which can be looked back on as a means of reminding ourselves of things we have to be grateful for.

2. Write a Letter (The gratitude visit)
This exercise involves composing a letter to someone who has affected or contributed to your happiness and well being but who has never properly thanked. In the letter, details about the benefits they have brought to your life through their actions and how you felt about their actions are included. Letters can either be sent to the person or the letter can be read aloud to the person to express your gratitude towards them. ‘The remarkable thing,’ says Seligman, ‘is that people who do this just once are measurably happier and less depressed a month later. But it's gone by three months.’

‘I wrote the letter. I learned that the act of highlighting those aspects of this particular relationship that I did appreciate and value allowed me to let go of the aspects that still disappointed and hurt. I learned that forgiveness heals the forgiver and the forgiven, and that it is possible to re-write memories that haunt you into memories that nurture you. It is a matter of perspective, like the picture depicting a vase or two profiles--which is foreground and which is background? It's all about the title we give to our stories that paves the way to life satisfaction.’ Diana Brecher,,+M.+E.+P.+(2002).+Authentic+Happiness:+Using+the+New...-a0150850221

3. Positive Experience Journal
This involves keeping a journal to record intensely positive experiences. The accounts of experiences should be very detailed; expressing feelings, emotions and thoughts had at the time of these experiences. Like the gratitude journal, a collection of positive experiences will gradually be built up and exist as a source to remind ourselves of the things we can be grateful for.
Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky from the University of California at Riverside has found that taking the time to conscientiously write about their blessings once a week significantly increased subjects' overall satisfaction with life over a period of six weeks, whereas a control group that did not keep journals had no such gain.

4. Saying 'Thank You'

This exercise is fairly obvious but the impact of simply thanking people who have helped you in some way may well be under rated. One study has shown that a waiter received bigger tips when writing 'Thank you' on the service charge for the customer (Rind and Bordia, 1995). Saying 'thank you' will not only be promoting your own gratitude towards life but also promoting prosocial behaviour in the future.

5. Gratitude prayer
A gratitude prayer is simply speaking aloud the aspects of life you feel grateful for each night before going to sleep. Unlike the postive experience and count your blessings journal, this exercise does not allow for a source to be created in which you can reflect on so may not be as advantageous as these exercises.


• “I am so happy that my dog didn’t bite me today!”
• “I am so happy that my car started this morning!”
• “I am so happy that I have one good friend!”
• “I am so happy my roof isn’t leaking!”
• “I am so happy I have a job that pays the bills!”

6. Telling it to people face to face

This is also one of Seligman’s exercises. In his classrooms, he made people to thank another person in the room in front of the whole class. In this way he created a room full of positive emotions. One reason for extending it in this way is to combine benefit to the writer with benefit to the recipient of the testimonial (a social dimension of positive psychology).

7. Use Structures (Visual Reminders)

These will remind and aid to become aware of the gratitude you feel towards certain things. (Use: Post-Its, beepers, signs, objects)

8. "The Gratitude Dance"

How Grateful Are You?

Do you need to start taking up some gratitude exercises?



You can find out how grateful you are by taking a gratitude questionnaire which you can complete online: (opens in a new window)

It does involve registering (free) but the wesbite is a good resource for quite a few aspects of positive psychology so it is probably worth it!

Experimental Evidence

'Reflect on your present blessings, on which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.' Charles Dickens

As described in previous topics, gratitude has always been a very important quality to possess, regardless of culture, religion or era. As such, one would expect it to be a well documented area, with its significance proven by numerous experiments over the course of the twentieth century’s rise of psychology. However this is not the case; indeed it is quite the reverse with concrete evidence only beginning to emerge during the last two decades.

The earliest reliable data regarding gratitude came from broad spectrum studies of emotions during the eighties, which reported that it had a positive emotional valence (Ortony, Clore, & Collins, 1988, Weiner 1985). Subsequent research then focussed on it directly and it was found to be a positive emotion, closely linked with contentment (Walker & Pitts, 1998), and pride, happiness and hope (Overwalle, Mervielde, & De Schuyter, 1995). These results were echoed by Storm and Storm (1987), who used a lexical approach and found that gratitude was grouped along with other positive emotions such as regard, respect, trust and admiration. Further confirmation of its positive nature came from Schimmack & Reisenzein (1997) who asked participants to rate how similar or dissimilar gratitude was to other emotions. It was rated as highly similar to contentment and joy, and highly dissimilar to jealousy, contempt and hate.

Whilst proving beyond all doubt that gratitude is a positive emotion, the above experiments all fail to explore what, if any, effect being grateful has on human well being. Indeed, it was not until 2003 and then 2005 that conclusive data emerged, as a result of large influential studies by Emmons and Mc Cullough (2003) and Seligman, Steen, Parks and Peterson's (2005):

Emmons, R. A., & Mc Cullough, M. E. (2003). An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life

Three studies were conducted in which participants were randomly assigned to experimental conditions. Participants kept records of positive and negative affect, coping behaviours, heath behaviours, physical symptoms and overall life appraisals.

Study 1

In a 9 week study 192 undergraduate participants were randomly assigned into 3 different experimental conditions. In each condition participants had to fill out a journal on a weekly basis.

  • Conditions

  1. Grattitude; participants had to list up to five things from the previous week which they were grateful or thankful for.

  2. Hassles; participants had to list up to five things from the previous week which they considered a hassle or irritant.

  3. Events; participants had to list up to five things from the previous week which they felt had an impact on them.

  • Results

    Compared to the hassles and events conditions particiapants from the gratitude condition felt better about their lives in general, and were more optimistic about the forthcoming week. They also reported fewer physical complaints and spent more time excersising. However, no influence on global or negative effect was reported. The authors suggested this might be because participants only completed the task once a week and so designed a second study with a stronger intervention model.

Study 2

In a 16 day study 155 undergraduate participants were randomly assigned into 3 different experimental conditions. In each condition participants had to fill out a journal on a daily basis. Gratitude and Hassles instructions were as above with the exception of reflection over the day rather than week. The third condition was a Downward social comparisson condition, participants were instructed to write down ways in which they were better off than others, things that they have which others don't.

  • Results

    People in the gratitude condition experienced higher levels of positive affect,they were also more likely to report having helped someone or offered someone else emotional support. This suggests proscocial motivation as a consequence of gratitude induction. However, unlike in study 1 no differences were reported on physical symptomology or health behavious. This may have been because of the short timeframe of the study.

Study 3

A 3 week study with 64 adult participants with a form of Neuromuscular disease. Participants had to complete a daily journal and were randomly assigned to either the gratitude or the control condition. The gratitude condition was the same as in the previous studies, the control condition involved completing affect, well being and global appraisals daily.

  • Results

    The participants of the gratitude condition reported increases in subjective life appraisals similar to those in study 1, they also reported increases in positive affect and decreases in negative affect as in study 2. Furthermore, participants in this condition reported increases in amount and quality of sleep, although there were no measurable affects on physical health.


A good thing about the Emmons and Mc Cullough study is that it is an example of controlled experimental evidence of 'counting blessings',which can also be easily implemented into most peoples lives. This study is also noteworthy as many previous studies on positive affect or wellbeing are correlationary in nature

One downside to this study is that it does only show short term effects,the authors do acknowledge this and suggest more studies should be carried out in terms of findong out about long term sustainibility of gratitude effects.


In the first study participants were randomly assigned into 3 groups; gratitude, hassles and events. The results found the gratitude condition felt better about their lives and were more optimistic as well as reporting fewer physical complaints. In the second study particpants filled out a journal on a daily basis. They were randomised into gratitude, hassles and downward social comparison groups. The results found that the gratitude condition had higher levels of positive effect and were more likely to report helping someone more. In the third study participants with neuromuscular disease had to complete a daily journal and were randomised into either the gratitude or control group. The results found the gratitude condtion reported increases in life appraisals.

2.Seligman, Steen, Parks and Peterson's (2005) study on the effects of Gratitude

This study involved participants being recruited online through Seligman’s Authentic Happiness website. Participants were randomly assigned to one of 6 experimental conditions. Participants were followed for 6months and were periodically measured for symptoms of depression and happiness.


The experimental manipulation of each condition lasted a week, and each participant was followed for 6months after completing the manipulation. Data from 411 participants was analysed. One of the conditions was a placebo control, two conditions focused on increasing awareness of what is most positive about ones self. Two further conditions involved focussing on strengths of character. The final condition which we will be focussing on was centred on building gratitude.

  • Gratitude condition; participants had to write and deliver a letter of gratitude in person to someone who had been especially kind to them but who had never been properly thanked.


Participants from the gratitude condition reported positive effects just one week after the intervention with participants being happier and less depressed. Moreover, they also had the largest positive effect for the entire study which was maintained for a month. Evidence suggests that there are several impacting factors on which depends how strong an effect will be and how long it will last(Lyubomirski, Sheldon and Schkade, 2005a).

  1. Fit: The exercise carried out will have more effect if it matches or fits the persons personality, motives or needs.
  2. Effort: The exersise must be carried out with effort.
  3. Commitment: The exercise must be carried out with habitual commitment.

Other Evidence

Since these influential studies, a considerable amount of research has been undertaken investigating the effect of gratitude on various aspects of life. Perhaps most notable is the work of Dr. Alex Wood of the University of Manchester who, in the past two years, has published no less than eight papers on the topic. Some of his more remarkable findings include that grateful people are: more satisfied with their life as a whole (Wood, Joseph & Maltby 2008); better equipped to deal with problems in life, being less likely to deny there is a problem, blame others or cope through substance abuse (Wood, Joseph & Linley 2007); better sleepers as they think more positive thoughts (which improve sleep quality) than negative thoughts (which reduce sleep quality) before falling asleep (Wood, Joseph, Lloyd & Atkins 2009).

Wood’s most recent research has revealed that gratitude may be even more important to general well being than previously imagined; possessing a unique relationship with it that other personality traits lack (Wood, Joseph & Maltby 2009). His study showed that gratitude alone explains many aspects of well being that other characteristics cannot. Indeed, even the Big Five personality traits cannot predict overall being as well as gratitude.

Please see Alex Wood's homepage for a full list of his publications.

Other Themes Relating to Gratitude

Lastly, experimental evidence also suggests that factors such as age and gender may influence gratitude scores and may effect the results of gratitude interventions.

  • Older adults tend to experience a shift in priorities, with an increased focus on the 'here and now' (Carstensen, Isaacowitz, & Charles,1999) concentrating on the time they have left. Instead of establishing new relationships they tend to focus on existing emotionally meaningful relationships. Therefore, there may be an increased tendancy to seeing gratitude as a positive and rewarding experience compared to younger adults. As in established relationships there are more opportunities for reciprocal altruism and gratitude for such acts.


  • In their 2009 study Kashdan, Mishra, Breen and Froh studied the effects of gender and gratitude. Their findings suggest that "women compared to men show evidence of a more grateful disposition, and derive greater benifits from the experience and expression of gratitude." Possible reasons for this include that gratitude is associated with indebtedness and dependancy amoung some people (Solomon,1995). Men may view the experience of gratitude as a weakness that threatens their social standing and masculinity(Levant and Kopecky, 1995).
  • Some researchers argue that gratitude is an adapted form of reciprocal altruism. This basically suggests that by experiencing gratitude (and feeling good) recipricants are motivated to repay their benifactors by doing something to help them. This in turn positively reinforces the benifactor for their deed and again reinforces them to help others (Mc Cullough, Kimeldorf & Cohen, 2008).

Wild Uncritical Claim

From our research it seems that gratitude is currently a well researched and well empirically supported area within positive psychology. We found little research that was not supported by experimental evidence.


In conclusion this wiki page has informed and evaluated the importance of gratitude and how it can help to change individuals, organisations and communities for the better. Expressing gratitude is a valuable approach as research has revealed it has the potential to incread both happiness and social support . Furthermore, it can be said that gratitude is an essential emotion and because it is universal across diverse cultures, it is very much a part of human nature.

The future of gratitude research within psychology looks promising and there has been substantial progress within the less decade or so. Since positive psychology is a relatively new area of research, we can look forward to many more studies investigating gratitude in the years to come.

Finally, we would like to express our gratitude for taking the time to read our wiki page!

Thank you!

‘I hate ingratitude more in a man
Than lying, vainness, babbling, drunkenness,
Or any taint of vice whose strong corruption
Inhabits our frail blood.’

William Shakespeare

Key References - Reccommended Reading

These three papers have been chosen because each one gives a good summary of the area of gratitude within positive psychology. Each of these papers also investigate the health and well being benefits of gratitude and find promising evidence to support the notion that being grateful can help benefit ourselves and others.

  1. Burton , C.M. & King, L.A. (2004). 'The health benefits of writing about intensely positive experiences.' Journal of research in personality. 38. 150-163.

  2. Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, R. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). 'American Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions.' Psychologist , 60 , 410–42.

  3. Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006a). 'How to increase and Substain Positive Emotion: The Effects of Expessing Gratitude and Visualising the Best Possible Selves.' The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1, 73-82.


Carlstensen, L. L., Isaccowitz, D., & Charles, S. T. (1999). Taking time seriously: A theory of socioemotional sensitivity. American Psychologist. 54, 165-181.

Emmons, R. A., & Mc Cullough, M. E. (2003). 'Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life.' Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 84. 377–389.

Kashden, T.B., Mishra, A., Breen, W. E., & Froh, J. J. (2009). Gender Differences in Gratitude: Examining Appraisals, Narratives, the WIllingness to Express Emotions, and Changes in Psychological Needs. Journal of Personality. 70:3
Levant, R. F., & Kopecky, G. (1995). Masculinty, Reconstructed. New York: Dulton

Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005a). 'Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change.' Review of General Psychology. 9. 111–131.

Joseph, S. Wood, A. (2007). Gratitude – Parent of all Virtues. The Psychologist. Vol 20; number 1.

Mc Collough M. E., Kilpatrick, S.,Emmons, R.A., & Larson, D. (2001). 'Is gratitude a moral affect?' Psychological Bulletin. 127. 249–266.

Mc Collough, M.E., Kimbeldorf, M.B. & Cohen, A. (2008). 'An Adaptation for Altruism? The Social Causes, Social Effects, and Social Evolution of Gratitude.' Current Directions in Psychological Science. 17. 281-185.

Mc Collough, M. E., Emmons, R.A. (2004). The Psychology of Gratitude. Oxford University Press; New York.

Mc Connell, T. (1993). Gratitude. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Rind, B., & Bordia, P. (1995). 'Effect of server's "Thank you" and personalization on restaurant tipping.' Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 25. 745-751.
Soloman, R. C. (1995). The cross cultural comparison of emotion. In J. Marks &R. T. Ames (Eds.), Emotions in Asian thought. (pp 253-294). Albany: State University of New York Press

Walker, L. J., & Pitts, R. C. (1998). 'Naturalistic conceptions of moral maturity.' Developmental Psychology. 34. 403–419.

Wood, A. M., Joseph, S., & Linley, P. A. (2007). 'Coping style as a psychological resource of grateful people.' Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. 26. 1108 – 1125.

Wood, A. M., Joseph, S., Lloyd, J., & Atkins, S. (2009). 'Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions.' Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 66. 43-48.

Wood, A. M., Joseph, S., & Maltby, J. (2008). 'Gratitude uniquely predicts satisfaction with life: Incremental validity above the domains and facets of the Five Factor Model.' Personality and Individual Differences. 45. 49-54.

Wood, A.M, Maltby,J., Stewart, N. (2008). 'A social cognitive model of trait and the state levels of gratitude.' Emotion. 8. 281-290.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press.