December 18, 2007

Gratitude is Good for You

It turns out that gratitude is good for you. Robert Emmons is one of the fathers of the study of gratitude in psychology, and I've seen his name around the blogosphere a lot lately. I decided to investigate.

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research
Emmons & Michael McCullough's 2003 article "Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-being in Daily Life" illustrates some of the effects of gratitude on well-being, exercise, and sleep. The studies suggest that a daily, long-term commitment to thinking about things for which one is grateful result in " ... substantial and consistent improvements in people’s assessments of ... global well-being." (p. 385)

The article describes three studies. The first showed that undergraduates who were randomly assigned to focus on gratitude ("generosity of friends" & "the Rolling Stones") were generally happier, exercised more, and slept more than those who were randomly asked to focus on "hassles" ("messy kitchen" & "stupid people driving"). This 9-week study was the longest of the three and had the most significant health effects with respect to sleep & exercise. However, subjects only kept track of their gratitude or hassle-o-meter only on a weekly basis.

The second study also focused on randomly-assigned undergraduates who kept a daily record of their gratitude or hassles. This study was in effect for 13 days and gratitude subjects "...experienced higher levels of positive affect during the 13-day period" (p. 383) but had no significant difference in any health measures. The third study assessed adults suffering from chronic disease for three weeks rather than two; subjects were randomly asked to keep a record of daily gratitude and their overall well-being or just a daily record of their overall well-being. Subjects' spouses or significant others were also asked to keep a log of the subjects' overall well-being.

The third study showed that folks in the "gratitude manipulation" group showed an increase in positive affect and a reduction in negative affect, and that "gratitude intervention" improved the amount and quality of subjects' sleep. More significantly, the spouses and significant others agreed with the grateful subjects' self-assessment and rated them "... as higher in positive affect." Other than sleep, however, there were no other health effects seen; this is likely because the study lasted only 3 weeks and not 9 as in Study 1.

Emmons and McCullough caution that the long-lasting and long-term effects of "gratitude manipulation" and "gratitude intervention" are unclear. And of course, there are lots of suggestions for future research. But hey, what can it hurt to practice gratitude manipulation?

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