Robert Emmons (Professor of Psychology, UC Davis) explains how gratitude can heal, energize, and change human lives, with reference to recent empirical psychological research. Delivered at Biola University on March 6, 2014. Co-sponsored by Biola CCT and Rosemead School of Psychology.
Gratitude, as Pete mentioned, is the area that I’ve been working in for about 15 years now, and gratitude is quite fascinating for a lot of reasons, because if you look historically at what some people have said about gratitude, there’s been some very powerful things that have been said about it. For example, it’s been referred to as the secret to life. That’s pretty good right, something’s the secret to life.
You’d want to know what that was, right? “The key that opens all doors.” Somebody referred to gratitude as that. Someone else referred to it as, “The most passionate, transformative force, in the cosmos.” That’s pretty cool. Someone else said, “It’s the queen of all the virtues.” “The greatest of the virtues,” it’s been referred to as.
But, I think it was this person who said it the best. You know, Ben Stein, he’s not too far from here I think in Beverly Hills, he hangs out. Anyway, very famous for his views on the economy, politics, he’s been an actor, he’s dabbled in a lot of different domains, but he also has some knowledge in the field of finance, and investments, and so, people would often ask him, at least they did before the economic disaster in the late part of the last decade, Ben, how can I get rich quick? I have some money, I want to invest, what’s the best way to invest it?
To which, he would reply, “I can’t tell you anything in a few minutes “that will tell you how to be rich, “but I can tell you how to feel rich, “which is far batter than being rich.” He says, “Be grateful. “It’s the only totally reliable get rich quick scheme.” He says that gratitude is richness. Beyond that, he also says that gratitude is tax-free, which is good too, right? So that’s even better. So we’ll start here, following the voices of others who have said similar things about the nature, the power, and the potential of gratitude.
What I’ve come to the conclusion after roughly 15 years of study, and doing research, and seeing the results of other scientists, also, conducting research on gratitude, is this conclusion. This has kind of become my mantra, I guess, about what gratitude does, that gratitude has the power to heal, to energize, and change lives, and that’s a significant claim to make. I wouldn’t make that lightly. Being a scientist I’d want to see all the evidence, and it’s there, and I’ll review a little bit with you here tonight. It does appear to have the ability to do all of these things, that it does have the potential, it does deliver on what it promises to deliver.
A little bit more succinctly stated, or pithily stated, is that gratitude works. That’s why it’s the title of my new book, “Gratitude Works,” because it does these things, and it does more. So, I want to first just a little bit overview of some of the findings. Then I want to really talk about some new ideas I’ve been working on, that I think take this topic in a new direction, and really change the nature a little bit of how we think about gratitude.
First of all, as a scientist, and I know there’s philosophers in the room, and you guys, you like to define things, right? And figure out what they’re all about. And so I always begin with a definition of gratitude, and then when we get the definition out of the way, it gets more fun, it’s easier after that. So we’ve gotta start here. So, when we’re grateful, think for a moment about what it means to feel gratitude, towards someone, or for something you received, you’re actually going through two processes, two steps of information processing, as we say in psychology. Number one, we’re affirming goodness.
We’re affirming there’s something good in life. We’re saying yes to life, my life has some good things in it. Life itself is good in many ways. It doesn’t mean that it’s perfect, that it’s without problems, flaws, but it does mean there are some good things to recognize and to celebrate. So recognition is number two. We recognize that the sources of these good things are outside of ourselves, we don’t take credit for them.
We say it’s other people, it’s God, it’s forces outside of ourselves are doing things for us, that we cannot do for ourselves, and that results in the feeling of gratitude. If we took credit for these things, we might feel pride. But we give credit to other people, we recognize the role they had in it, their hand in it, that results in the feeling of gratefulness. So that’s affirmation and that’s recognition.
The recognition’s very important, because it implies that gratitude is how you think about things. And there’s an old saying that, to be thankful is to be thoughtful. Thinking and thanking go together. You can’t be thankful unless you’re first thoughtful. So recognizing, remembering, recollecting, acknowledging. All those words have to do with the mind, and how we think about things, make us grateful. That’s where gratitude begins. The question I began my studies with, in the late 1990’s, up at Davis, was, does feeling, experiencing, expressing gratitude link to happiness, to well-being?
Pete mentioned I’m involved in the positive psychology movement, and I am and I’ve been doing that for sometime, but even before there was a formal field of positive psychology, there were people studying happiness, and well-being, and life satisfaction, and optimism, it kind of all came together under this umbrella term of positive psychology. But there were people doing this long before, and obviously there was thinkers, theologians, philosophers, who pondered the meaning of happiness, and well-being, and gratefulness, as well, for thousands of years before that.
One question that I asked, putting together my interests in happiness with gratitude, seems like a good connection, a logical starting point, but that’s what happened. I was asked actually to become a so-called expert on gratitude. That’s how I got interested in it. I was invited to this conference, and there was people who were invited to become the experts on different topics, and Pete was there, and Pete was the expert on humility, and he still is. But actually I don’t know if you know this or not, but I wanted to do humility at that conference, that was like my topic, and they took it from me, and they gave it to him.
You see, ’cause I had studied narcissism. [audience laughing] You got it right, it’s a natural flip-side, reversed, right? I just reversed everything I knew about narcissism, and I would understand humility. Well, it didn’t work out that way. It’s not quite so easy, but it turned out that what was left over after all the other topics had been assigned, was gratitude. We got nobody to do gratitude, so Mister Emmons you’re gonna be the gratitude expert. I knew nothing about it. They said review all the studies, all the literature on gratitude, come and tell us about it. Well, it turned out that was easy, because there was like three studies.
So I had to go out there and I had to do some studies, right away, do some research, because I can’t go to this learned conference with all these smart people there, and get up there and say, we don’t know anything about gratitude. So that started a research project and program for the last 15 years, that’s kept me busy. But I began with that question. Is expressing gratitude the key to unlocking happiness? Not just expressing, but also feeling internally inside. Expression is just one outward manifestation of it. And what we’ve discovered through a number of different projects, experimental, survey research, field research. Here’s a slide which shows you six different categories of findings. I put it all on one slide.
So this is like 15 years, not just of mine, but other people who have now become involved in the science of gratitude. Finding things like gratitude increases emotional well-being. People feel more joy, happiness, well-being, when they are practicing gratitude. Anywhere between 15 to 25%, these are significant, measurable, quantifiable changes. In the domain of relationships, the second one down on the left.
Grateful people get along better with others. They’re relationships are more satisfying, more fulfilling, they feel more connected, less lonely, less isolated, than people who are either less grateful, or who are not practicing gratitude. Practicing, we’ll talk about that, it simply means, for example, keeping a journal, where you write down your thoughts and feelings related to gratitude as one practice that you can use to form and develop your gratitude abilities.
Grateful people are less depressed, there’s a number of studies showing that gratitude can help in the remediation of depression, at least mild forms of depression, mild to moderate forms of depression, and can be very helpful for the prevention of future episodes of depression. Grateful people actually achieve more.
There are studies showing they are more goal-oriented, and more effective actually at accomplishing goals they set for themselves. So the list goes on and on. Grateful people are more generous, giving, forgiving. They pay it forward, as the phrase goes. They actually do that. And all these have been published in pretty reputable journals. Grateful people are more resilient to trauma. They’re less likely to show the nasty after effects of traumatic stress, if they have gratitude developed prior.
So gratitude serves as a form of resilience, part of a person’s psychological immunity system. There’s lots of other findings than these. There’s been studies done with people between the ages of eight and 80. Journaling studies have been done all over the world, laboratories have replicated them. They’ve taken our questionnaires and translated them to different languages, and it’s quite fascinating. There’s now a huge body of literature, which is coalescing and reporting findings like this. There’s actually some others in the domain of physical health we’ll get to, but depression is very interesting.
There’s some really good studies, showing that when people are focusing on what they’re grateful for, writing down systematically every day. They say things like this, and I like to show these sorts of things, because it reflects what people are noticing it’s changing in their lives. They’re transforming their emotional states, just by focusing outward. When I’m sinking and getting caught up in my problems, it helps me rise above them. It helps me get out of the negative, remember that not all is lost. I stopped taking the good in my life for granted, and I get out of my shell. Just a small sampling of the benefits that people report, quite apart from the way we can quantify those in our numbers, looking at changes in people based upon various exercises, that they are engaged in.
Physical benefits, this is like the new generation of research on gratitude, showing physical, measurable, quantifiable, actual endpoints, objective endpoints, that are being connected and correlated with grateful outcomes. So we find that grateful people exercise more. When people keep a gratitude journal, they actually become more active and exercise more. They sleep better, their sleep is more efficient. They wake up, feel more refreshed in the morning, less bothered by everyday sleep pathology. They’re less likely to smoke, and abuse alcohol. They’re much more likely to adhere to their medication when they go to the doctor. So they take better care of their health, in a lot of different ways. They’re more likely to engage in health-promoting behaviors, less likely to engage in health-damaging behaviors, all of which are good stuff right?
And the most recent findings are showing links to lower blood pressure, actually measurable, 10 to 15% lower, both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, as well as healthier lipid panels. So higher levels of high-density lipoproteins, lower levels of low-density lipoproteins, and there’s a couple of other findings also of interest, related to kidney functioning, in creatinine which is a measure of waste product in the kidneys.
Actual studies showing that gratitude relates to less of that, which is good. So, that’s the new generation of looking at really good, important, objective health outcomes, and it’s where I think a lot of research is moving in that direction. So that’s exciting to see. We’ve gone way beyond just feeling better because you’re keeping a gratitude journal to actually measurable health-related outcomes.
Okay now, I was thinking, about what I wanted to present to you tonight, and normally what I do, and when I give a presentation, is I kind of do that sort of thing, go through all the benefits of gratitude, and we talk about then how to practice it, and get more of it, and so on, explain why it works, and that’s the entire presentation. But I thought I wanted to do something a little bit different, this evening that represents some new thoughts and ideas that I have, which at the same time is a way of putting together the various findings about gratitude into a more or less coherent structure, or framework, or maybe it’ll be incoherent, I don’t know. But hopefully there’s something in between. I think it’s just a different way of thinking about gratitude, and I think the idea has some validity to it, just because, in academia there’s a lot of ways to get feedback. There’s a lot of people who want to critique our work, aren’t there, right?
So when you’re a student, professors critique you, whether you’re undergraduate or graduate student, okay. When you’re a professor, journal editors, and reviewers critique you. And then your university, when you go for reviews, and tenure, that sort of thing, they critique you. And so on, grant panels, critique your applications when you want to get money to do research, so there’s a lot of people who are critiquing us, that we can rely on to get an affirmation of what we’re doing is useful, or not. Well, all those are important, and I’ve relied on those from time to time, but now I prefer instead to look at how many likes I get on Facebook.
When I put out a new idea, I know it has validity if people say, yeah that’s a good idea, because you just kind of change after a while, in terms of the people you think have opinion that’s worthwhile, and they’re just regular folks. So I posted these ideas, in a very abbreviated form of it, and I got more likes than any other thing I ever published, or posted, you know, and I don’t post a whole lot, but I thought, hey maybe I’m onto something here now. But then you know what happened was that I posted a picture of my wife and I on our anniversary, and that so eclipsed this one, it wasn’t even close.
So you learn a lot after you do that for a while. You put your kids in there with your dog, I just put my wife by herself. Now I get like a hundred likes, you know. And I only have 80 friends on Facebook, so it’s kind of weird. So this was number two most popular things, I’m thinking maybe there’s some good ideas anyway. You can decide yourselves. But I was reading about a man who started this trend some years ago where he would carry around a stone, it’s called the gratitude stone, and I forget exactly how it got started, but it was popular in contemporary culture.
Maybe it was because of “The Secret,” the book that came out and so on, I think it had something to do with gratitude stones, I’m not exactly sure, but he would always carry a stone in his pocket, and he would use this stone to remind himself all those things in his life for which he was grateful, when he would get forgetful, as we do, or take these things for granted. Well if you’ve got a stone in your pocket, it’s hard to ignore. Like a pebble in your shoe, it’s always there. He would pull it out and it would remind him of those things he would be grateful for. So I started thinking about stones, and how we build structures and foundations, based on stones. You know, we have like the ground stone, the cornerstone, foundational stone, and a capstone on the top, and so forth. You have a structure.
So I started thinking about gratitude in terms of three stones, three foundational stones, which link together and tie together different aspects of gratitude. And I think these become important when we think about how to practice gratitude, how to achieve more and more gratitude. So if gratitude is our structure, then these three stones are ways to achieve a solid gratitude structure, a stable foundation for gratitude. So what does gratitude require then from this perspective? And the first thing that it requires, again is this looking for the good, or seeing the good, that’s where gratitude begins.
We look for, we affirm the good. We look for things to say yes to, about life. Seeing, noticing, seeing with grateful eyes. So when we have our eyes wide open in gratitude, we’re much more likely to look for, and to see the good. So the terms I used before, things like recognizing, and becoming aware of, and acknowledging, all ways of seeing aspects of looking at life. What is the stone, now for each of these, aspects, or three components, there’s a particular term I’m going to use that captures the essence of each one of these.
And I think the first one for looking for the good, or seeing the good, is the stone of joy. Now joy’s a very interesting concept. We can think about it as perhaps one of the key foundations of gratitude. You know, Karl Barth, the theologian, he said that, “Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.” Kind of interesting, joy. Gratitude is something that’s a celebration, of those things in your life that provide joy, a sense of joy, a sense of well-being, not necessarily happiness, which is different, in fact, gratitude being the gateway of joy, is in contrast to happiness. Now we kind of live in an age of happiness. It’s a huge industry.
Programs and workshops and books and seminars on happiness. There’s no shortage of advice out there, promising, if you follow my formula, or my prescription, you can become happier in 30 days, or three hours, or 10 steps, or seven secrets. It’s all around us. All the books that have the word happiness in the title, or popular media, like Time Magazine, every once in a while, every so often, does a happiness issue, and there’s just one illustration of that. You know how many titles there are on Amazon that have the world ‘happiness’ in them? A lot? Yes, you’re right, a lot. 36,683, well that was in January, it’s probably more than that now. Now not all those are books, but a lot of them are books, there’s probably scarves and things and stuff too that have happiness, bracelets, and so on. But a lot of them are books, so a lot of stuff, a lot of advice, a lot of voices telling us how to be happy.
But I’m not so sure it’s the same thing as joy, though. I think joy might be a little bit different than happiness. I don’t know, some of you are nodding your head. I think most psychologists would see these very similar, but I think we can analyze from a different angle, perhaps more of a spiritual one, we can see there’s some differences between joy and happiness. For example, I just jotted down a few ideas that I had, that in terms of how these are typically thought of. There’s some consensus that happiness tends to be more external, based on what’s happening in a person’s life. Good things happening, happiness, bad things happening, unhappiness.
Whereas joy, there’s more of an internal feeling that can be independent of happenings. Happiness is more short-term, momentary, as an emotion. You feel happy right now, you might not feel happy tomorrow. Joy can be more long-term or dispositional. Again, partly because it’s independent of circumstances. Joy tends to be more other-focused, more relational, in nature. George Vaillant is a well-known psychiatrist, studies human development, and also the emotions, and he says, “Joy is fundamentally relational.” And he’s right, it occurs in a context of relationships.
Happiness may, or may not, maybe more about us than other people, and then lastly joy can be felt in what we think about as unhappy circumstances, ones which you wouldn’t necessarily associate with joy or happiness. You could be joyful at a funeral, for example, memorial service is a good example. My Mom died last summer and went back, back east, and saw relatives and people I hadn’t seen in decades. It’s not a happy occasion but it kind of is in a sense, because you’re connecting, coming together again, to celebrate the life of someone, you’ve all had that experience before.
John McCain, when he was in the prisoner of war camps in Vietnam, afterward he was interviewed, and he talked about how he felt joy in those circumstances. How could you feel joy in prison like that? But he did, he said many times he felt joyful. So we can have joy, I think for these reasons, maybe others, that it’s different. I don’t know, there needs to be research on that topic, but I think that at least there’s some evidence, and good reason to think of it connected to gratitude.
We see gratitude affects people’s ratings of joy, more so than it does their ratings of happiness. So that’s interesting. Joy and gratitude just seem to go to together. Now, by the way, looking for, let’s go back to that first one. Looking for the good also involves looking for the bad in the good, as well. Maybe that’s where joy comes in. So I’ve done some writing on that, the juxtaposition between suffering and joy, or adversity and delight, to quote Harvey Cox, the Harvard theologian, talks about this juxtaposition between adversity and delight, and that’s where gratitude really comes together.
We have the awareness of past suffering, but now you have the current celebration, and it’s only in that context that you can really celebrate those good things, really affirm that goodness. So looking for the good includes for the good in the bad, kind of a redemptive twist on something that is bad. All right, so that would be joy, the first of the stones. Now, not only have to look at the good, or look for the good, but then take in the good, absorb it, or savor it. I say this is receiving the good.
Because there could be a lot of good out there, but it just kind of goes over us, we don’t really notice it, or take it in, or relish it. So we need a second stone, right? We’re taking in the goodness, and I’m gonna call this one, grace. I think grace is the appropriate term and concept to refer to this element of gratitude, which is experiencing that gift, acknowledging that this gift, I didn’t work for it, earn it, or deserve it, or merit it, but it’s mine, nevertheless. See, without that awareness, we have the good but we don’t take it in.
Now one of the things that, I think most have had observation, too, is that people are pretty good at giving gifts, but not so good as receiving gifts. Are you like that? I’m like that, so I like giving gifts, I like to see the response and reaction it has, when I know it’s something that they really wanted. My wife got so excited, I got her this pair of boots for Christmas, and she had no clue she was gonna get it, so she had the surprise, which elevates emotion anyway. She was so excited, more so than our kids, when they got presents when they were small. And she was like, how did you know? I worked hard at it to find those. It’s really kind of funny, I’ll take some time to tell you, because I was on a trip, and I knew what kind she wanted, I had an idea, and I saw a woman in the airport with a pair of boots, I thought, that’s kind of the right style.
Now how do you go up to a stranger, without making it sound like you know, you’re kind of, you know, trying to pick them up or something. Those boots are kind of cool, right? I waited a long time, I’m like watching her, because there was time before the flight, and she’s in Starbuck’s. I gotta say something, because it’s November, I gotta order these boots. So I work up the nerve, and the courage to do so, and then she tells me the name of them, she couldn’t quite remember the brand name, but then I look it up right then on Amazon. They’re like 600 dollar boots.
And then, when we got on the plane, she’s already seated because she’s in the priority seating. She can afford those boots she’s got a lot of money. [audience laughing] So, she didn’t think I was weird or anything, just said you know, and she told me about it. I said, “Okay I looked ’em up.” I said, “They’re very expensive.” She says, “well they’re worth it,” is what she said. [audience laughing] I got a pair, they weren’t quite that much, with a good discount. But anyway, what’s the point of this story? [audience laughing] Surprise, right, she was inspired by it. She, I can’t remember the point of the story. [audience murmuring] Receiving gifts, oh yes, thank you. Thank you, so it’s nice to see that.
Now if I got a gift that was that expensive, I would be worried, how much did you spend on it? I didn’t need that, that sort of thing. This is often our response so, we’d rather give, so we’ve gotta be good receivers, practice good receiving, and that’s where maybe grace comes in, looking for the good, taking in the good, is number two. All right, second stone. Grace amplifies the good, in gratitude. One of the ways our mind works is that good things when we get them, don’t last very long. They wear off. Our emotional system likes newness, it likes novelty. So how do we keep that newness going?
We have to find some way to amplify or magnify it, because our brains are pretty good at doing the opposite. We magnify and amplify the negative. Negativity is much stronger than positivity, a complaint is stronger than a compliment. Well, we have to have another system in there to offset this natural bias toward negativity, and that’s where gratitude comes in. So magnifying, like magnifying words, print, or sound, an amplifier pumps up the volume, it pumps up the print, so you can see it. It pumps up the goodness in our life is what gratitude does and what grace does amplifies the goodness that produces gratitude.
So that’s number two. Now anything solid, has gotta have three legs, or four legs if it’s a chair, if it’s a stool it’s gotta have three legs. Two doesn’t get you too far. So we need a third stone. And the third stone I’m gonna say is, giving back the good, and the concept associated with that one is, love. All right, so we’ve got joy, we’ve got grace, and we’ve got love, it sounds pretty good, right? The theological trifecta there. Well, we look for the good, the first step. Not just look for the good. Do you like that? That’s good preaching.
Take in the good, which is grace. But then, the gratitude is not complete until it’s given back, and that’s when the gratitude becomes thanksgiving, when the giving becomes thanksgiving, you give it back, by giving back the good. This is the next step in this process. And it is the case that out of gratitude comes this desire, to give back the goodness, in some measure to which it’s been received. And it’s quite fascinating that grateful people are more likely to give back, become more generous, to return, to reciprocate that goodness that they’ve received. So I think there’s reasons to put that there as the third stone. There does seem to be a connection between grace, gratitude, generosity. So much of life is about giving and receiving benefits, repaying benefits. And it seems like love would be that component, that would be involved there in the third stone.
Now this distinction, I’m gonna talk a little bit more about grace, and about love, and giving, was really became central to me, recently. This notion here, the connection, let’s just focus on that for a little bit. The connection between grace and gratitude. Now clearly, gratitude depends on grace, from a Christian worldview, in response to God’s unmerited favor, the appropriate response is human gratitude.
But the reverse does not hold. Grace does not depend on gratitude. That is giving, doesn’t depend upon expected gratitude. We don’t give a gift because we expect to get some gratitude back. Or we shouldn’t, but we do. But if it’s true gratitude, you’re truly given a gift, then it’s independent of expectations, it has nothing to do with the receiver. Just saying that the grace has everything to do with the giver, not to do with the receiver.
And so, of course we’re all familiar with the parable of the 10 lepers, is one of the great parables about grace and unmerited giving, and I’d always thought about this in a certain way, until last fall, when I first heard it analyzed this way. I thought, wow, that’s a different interpretation. It makes a lot of sense from a perspective of gratitude. So, of course the 10 lepers are healed by Jesus. He says, go show yourselves to the priest, the priest had to declared them clean, before they could return to society.
They lived in leper colonies, they were ostracized. They couldn’t participate, they couldn’t live with their families, because they were unclean, and they had to say that, announce that, when they were coming. Look out, here we come. Protect yourself. So it was pretty humiliating. And so they call out to Jesus, for a healing, and he says, “Go and show yourselves to the priest.” And of course they are healed, and then you would think that given a gift like this, now that they’re healed, they can go back to their lives, go back to their homes, they can go back to their jobs. They can kiss their wives, hug their kids, and everything that they didn’t have before, is given back to them.
And I always thought this was a story about ingratitude. How awful it is that nine of them went away ungrateful, and only one came back. And at one level, it is, and Jesus must be thinking, wow, what a bunch of ingrates. Did all this for them, and none of them came back except the one foreigner. Well, turns out of course that, he knew full well that only one was going to come back, but that didn’t stop him from giving grace to all of them. They all got the gift of healing, knowing fully well that only one of them was gonna be grateful.
So this kind of giving is different than human giving, where we wait for, we expect to get, thanks, and if we don’t get that thanks, well you’re not gonna get anything else, that’s for sure, right? If we don’t get that thank you card, then no certificate next year on your birthday and so on. This kind of giving, it just seems like this kind of grace-based giving, so much is more different, than that of human giving. So who made this distinction? Where did this come from? Well, I’m gonna skip a couple of these things here. We’ll talk more about that. Yeah, this is good actually about practicing gratitude, then we’ll talk more about grace, and what it means to actually practice gratitude, because I’ve also changed my ideas about that, as well. Three things about the practice of gratitude. Life can be seen as a continual invitation to gratitude. There’s virtually no moment or no experience that cannot be seen as a reason for gratitude, if not immediately, then at some point in the future. Gratitude becomes a choice that people can make, regardless of circumstances, so that’s the second point. It’s always good to communicate to people when they believe they have no choice, about to be ungrateful. Like, you don’t know what I’m going through right now. Maybe gratitude seems like a good idea, maybe I’ll practice that at some point down the road, but not today.
Well, in fact they could practice that today. And then the third point is that we already have all the tools we need to practice gratitude. And you know in my writings I list all these different tips and strategies, techniques, tools, journaling, letter-writing, using social media, et cetera, for developing gratitude, and they all work to a certain degree, but they don’t really tell you anything you didn’t already know. We have the tools we need already to look for, take in, and give back the good. But what happens with tools, is like, what happened to your tools after a while? You lose them, or they get rusty, or they get dull from disuse.
If you came to my house and looked in my garage, which you won’t, but if you did, you’d find a mess, kind of. My tools, I take them out, I don’t put them back, and then I leave ’em outside, and then it rains, and they get rusty, and so on. It’s like our gratitude tools, the same thing happens. They get rusty, they get misplaced. They get dull from disuse, and we’ve gotta take them out and shine them up, take the rust off, and then we can experience more and more gratitude. However, this is what I’m changing my mind about, thinking about.
We try to become more grateful, we make it all about us. I wanna become more grateful. I’m gonna keep a gratitude journal. My goal, my New Years resolution, is to become a more grateful person. It becomes a self-project, in a sense. In a sense we can try too hard to become grateful, and that can actually backfire, because we get so focused on how we’re doing.
Am I doing it well enough? Am I writing in my journal every day? What happens if I forget a day, or skip a day? It becomes another to-do list, that you can just check off. Oh yeah, I became grateful yesterday. I’ll move on to something else. Now I’ll try humility, or forgiveness, or whatever. Trying too hard, we approach it as if it’s all about us, and I think that can lead a person to become very demoralized, discouraged, because you can’t always do it, you can’t keep up to a level that you set as too high, when it becomes a self-project like this.
That’s just one of my thoughts, even though I’ve written about how to do it. I think you can focus too much about doing, as opposed to focusing on looking for the good, taking in the good, and giving back the good, which really doesn’t have a lot to do with yourself. You’re focusing your attention outward, in another direction, which is what gratitude requires. Gratitude is not about us, it’s about the other, the other person, or God, doing things for us, we can never do for ourselves. Okay, where did this come from?
Deciding also, a third point, that gratitude, many people’s gratitude, and this is a talk when I gave to the college students, they liked this, because I think for a lot of them, their gratitude, like other aspects of their devotional life, is driven by fear, fear I’m not doing it right enough, or not doing good enough, or that God is not accepting what I’m doing. God wants perfection, therefore He’s not gonna be satisfied with anything less. And so their gratitude becomes driven by fear, as opposed to driven by faith. Fear is all about them, faith is all about the Gospel.
And that’s a very different focus, where I think gratitude must be ultimately rooted. Gratitude that is not grounded or motivated by the Gospel, is gonna be unsustainable. You try it for a while, it becomes a project like to lose weight, or eat more healthily, or exercise more, take a gratitude list, and so on. But after a while, you fall away, you give it up. It’s just too much work. You get tired, you get worn out, from trying to do it too much, too long, for the wrong reason. So I read this book. Has anybody read, “One Way Love,” by Tullian Tchividjian?
I think I pronounced that right, there’s no way you could spell that, but you can see it up there. He’s the grandson of Billy Graham. He’s also pastor of Presbyterian, what’s it called? Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Something like that. I think I got most of it in there. Anyway, so I heard him speak at a conference. This was the Christian Counseling Association Conference, in Nashville, last September.
And his book had just come out, it was about to come out. And I heard him give a talk, give a sermon, basically, about this idea of grace, and one-way love, and how we get it all wrong, and how we have this crisis of grace. And people have said this for a long time, you know, but no one said it exactly like he did, I think. After the talk, went back to the lobby area that evening. You know I’ve heard a lot of talks, speakers, preachers, pastors, professors, politicians, or I give talks, and I went back just, I don’t know why, I thought maybe they’d be selling copies of his book hadn’t come out yet, but sometimes you get advanced copies for conferences. And so I go, and so it’s like they’re closing up shop, they’re putting away everything, the tables and everything.
And so he’s there, I said wow, and the book was available, and so on. And of course like any good author, he was willing to sell it to me. Even though they’d already put away the cash register and stuff. That reminds me, I’ll talk about it later. [audience laughing] And so, I said to him, I said, “That’s like the best sermon I’ve ever heard.” and I said I’ve got a pretty good sampling, and so on, and just the message and how he did it. It just really changed the way I think about gratitude. I said, “Oh by the way, can I take my picture with you?” And that was kind of cool too, so we did a little picture too.
But this was really what he was about, so I recommend you read this book, because it really changes the nature of how we think about things like gratitude, and the Gospel, and I don’t know, can you read that? I just want to put a couple of quotes in there, which then reflects back on how I think we should practice gratitude, and how we sometimes get it wrong, and I’ve gotten it wrong, too.
He says, “The hub of Christianity is not, “do something for Jesus. “The hub of Christianity is, “Jesus has done everything for you. “I feel that too many people, “both inside and outside the church, “have heard this plea for intensified devotion, “and concluded that the focus of the Christian faith “is our love for God, instead of God’s love for us. “It seems that the good news of God’s grace “has been tragically hijacked “by an oppressive religious moralism “that is all about rules, rules, and more rules. “Doing more, trying harder, self-help, getting better, “keeping more gratitude journals, and so on. “Fixing, fixing, fixing ourselves, our kids, our spouse, “our friends, our enemies, our culture, our world. “Christianity is perceived as a vehicle “for good behavior and clean living.”
He says the Bible gets read like a self-help book, a manual, like it’s all about us. It’s not, it’s not all about us. It’s all about Jesus, and what he’s done for us. With the results, judgments that result from them, rather than the only recourse for those who have failed over and over again, “And it’s high time for the church,” he says, “to honor its founder by embracing sola gratia anew. “By grace alone. “By faith alone, and Christ alone,” he says. “To reignite the beacon of hope for the hopeless, “and point to all of us bedraggled performancists.” Which is a word I think he made up.
But the idea that you work too hard, you’re performing all the time, trying to get approval, acceptance, admiration, and so on. “Get back to the freedom and rest of the cross. “We need to get back to proclaiming “the only message that matters, “and the only message we have, “the word about God’s one-way love for sinners. “It’s shocking and scaring, unnatural and undomesticated, “but it’s the only thing that can set us free, “and light the church and the world on fire.”
That’s what he does, everything writes, every sermon he preaches is all about grace, and I think there’s a lot to learn here with respect to gratitude, so I appreciate his insights on this, and it’s led me to think a little bit differently about the practice of gratitude. I haven’t quite sorted it all out yet. It’s still fairly new to me, applying this thought to it but, I think grace has got a lot to do with it. I think the changing of focus from the self as a project, to become more grateful to the source of that gratitude? That’s a big part of it.
I want to end with this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who certainly knew a thing or two about suffering and gratitude. If you read his letters from prison, it’s just saturated with thankfulness, and thanksgiving, it’s just all the way through it. But this is about grace though, he says, “Grace is a treasure, an inexhaustible treasure.”
Which is interesting, because the subtitle of the Tchividjian book, which I recommend you read by the way. If there’s one book I would recommend you read, that’d be the second one. The first one is on gratitude, but anyway. [audience chuckling] He says it’s, “inexhaustible grace for an exhausted world.”
So everyone’s worn out by working so hard, he says, but grace is different. She showers, “the church,” he says, “showers blessings with generous hands, “without asking questions or fixing limits. “The essence of grace is that the account “has been paid in advance, “and because this has been paid, “everything can be had for nothing. “Since the crop was infinite, “the possibilities of using and spending it, “are infinite.” So, we started with that economic analogy or message from Ben Stein. The secret to life, right? Richness in life, gratitude. This is kind of a nice bookend on it.
Now I’ve written a couple of books, and I brought some copies here to share with you, if you’d like. They’re available over there at the table. “Thanks” was my first one on gratitude, meant for a general audience, where we put in the research. It’s got a lot of background on philosophy, and theology, religious studies, Christianity, and suffering, and practices. It’s like, it’s good, and everything’s in there. That was 2007. And then last year I came out with, “Gratitude Works.” It’s a slightly different direction, it’s a little bit more about the practices of gratitude.
So the subtitle is, “A 21-Day Program for Practicing Gratitude,” where we have a three-week program, where you cycle through different sets of instructions to help you gratitude, to help you journal, on a regular basis. So you do one thing for one night, and then the next night it’s something else. And you pick and choose, you learn based on that little sampling exercise, what works the best for you. That becomes your practice. You don’t have to follow, it’s not a to-do formula list. It’s like using whatever tools you find work the best for you.
So that’s “Gratitude Works.” So they’re available over there on the table. I’m so grateful to be able to come, it’s so gifted to do what I do at a university, to get support from the academy, but to be able to come and talk to kindred spirits is also a great gift, so I thank you for coming tonight, for your attention, and I think we’ve got some time for questions. Thank you. [audience applauding]
We do have time for questions, and don’t forget that Lars Campbell, he’s my boss so I can’t disagree with him, but he says we can be informal. If you just can’t wait for some of those refreshments, feel free to meander over there during the question and answer period. And we’ll open it up for a brief while here.
Audience Member: I love your description of the difference between joy and happiness.
Yeah. [audience member muffled] They have joy. [muffled speaking]
Audience Member: I want that. And now I have children who are 25 and 27, and they aren’t joyful, like they were at [muffled], whatever. But neither is anybody else. So my question is, but when I look at older people, in their 70’s and 80’s, they seem more joyful.
Mm-mm-hm. [audience member muffled]
Audience Member: That joy that happens to children when they laugh, [muffled].
Audience Member: Is what I think I want.
Pure joy. It’s like a spontaneity, that you can’t really force, I think, so you could do these things and programs for happiness, but I’m not convinced they would work so much for joy, because almost you have to take yourself out of the equation, it’s almost like this flow state, that the researchers talk about.
You’re totally absorbed in an activity, so you don’t really notice, you’re not keeping score about whether you’re happy or not, or happier than the person next to you. You’re just immersed in the moment, and that’s what the kids are, and then it’s probably a different mechanism for those who are older. But also probably involves a lot of living in the moment too, right? As opposed to obsessing over that which has happened, or hasn’t happened yet. I think there’s lots of elements to it, but that’s a great point. Joy, when you think of the prototypes of joy, you think about kids just playing. It’s freedom that joy allows. Yeah, that’s good.
Audience Member: How do you parse out the posture of gratitude, with [muffled] who are grieving? Because I find people they want to skip lament and grief, and just [muffled] some other posture. And so just in your experience, how do [muffled]?
Well, one of the myths about gratitude, if we had more time I would have gone through a bunch of myths, false beliefs, that people hold about gratitude, and one of them is that, gratitude is just positive thinking about something. It’s just looking at all the benefits of it, and not seeing that sometimes there is that necessity of seeing the bad, or seeing the good in the bad, and seeing that possibility of the redemption that comes out of that.
Yeah, so what happens is that it gets brushed over, glossed over. People say, well this gratitude, it’s just this kind of happy-ology thinking. It’s kind of denial, where you deny the reality of evil, the reality of suffering, but yet the great exemplar, the great prototypes, are the Dietrich Bonhoeffers, are the Corrie ten Booms, are the those who have, are the John McCains, and others who have been in the adversity, and have that contrast, from which comes this refined amount of gratitude. So the gratitude you feel in that context is gonna be different than the gratitude that’s felt without the adversity, without the grief. But you know I think gratitude work, I don’t do grief work, I’m not a grief counselor. Are you? Do you do that? Is that the area that you work in?
Audience Member: That’s not my specialty.
Audience Member: For grieving, and lament.
Right. Yeah, the working through of it and all, but there comes a point where gratitude becomes part of that healing process. It becomes one of the healing aspects in the context of what that relationship meant to that person. So grief and gratitude often go together in that context, too. But you’re right, you can’t jump too quick.
It’s like jumping to forgiveness without going through all the stages of being hurt, acknowledging the hurt, taking it in, holding the other person accountable, otherwise it’s just too quick, and it doesn’t sustain itself over time. Good point. Over here.
Audience Member: I wonder if you could talk a little bit about [muffled] changes. [muffled speaking] Talk a little bit about that connection between thankfulness and our awareness of our [muffled], and if your [muffled] in non-believers, then what’s the difference between [muffled].
Yes, a very good point. Did you hear that? So, believers, non-believers, so being created by a creator, automatically puts you in a position to have someone to express gratitude toward, particularly if you see everything coming from that creator, whether it’s good or bad. Everything would be an occasion for gratitude.
Actually I’m gonna talk a little bit about that tomorrow morning in the seminar over at the Center. What makes Christian gratitude distinctively Christian? Christianly, I guess. But what is it about it? That’s one of the things is because, you have a sense of dependency in the context of being dependent upon a creator, sustainer, redeemer, that we don’t have, if you’re not in the faith. Dependency is one of those things that blocks people from gratitude, it’s an obstacle to gratitude. I don’t want to be dependent upon other people, I want to do it for myself.
I want to be self-reliant, self-sufficient and so on. So if you’re able to acknowledge that dependency, and as we do as Christians, we can have a glad dependency on God. We don’t have that obstacle of dependency, that other people have to acknowledge. So that’s one way in which it would be different. Now, another myth of gratitude though, is that you have to be spiritual, you have to be Christian to be grateful.
And we know that’s not the case. It’s just like saying you have to be Christian to be kind, or forgiving, whatever. And people of other faiths score as high as any measure of gratitude that we got. People of no faith, non-believers, also score high on gratitude, too. Obviously to whom they’re grateful is different. They have different rituals, they’re not, their gratitude is not based on the teachings, traditions, that ours is based on. But clearly they have gratitude, but it looks different.
So, there’s some distinctive component to it. I think one of the most important ones, is the notion of being grateful in all circumstances, that gratitude infuses the believer’s life with blessings in every corner, every nook and cranny, has gratitude. Whereas for those who don’t have that same faith worldview, gratitude works well in the midst of blessings, good things, benefits, favors, you got gratitude. But when those are taken away, then do you still have gratitude?
Well now I’m not so sure. Gratitude can be sustained with a Christian worldview, even though circumstances might tell us, we don’t have a lot to be grateful for at the time. Does that get at some of your question I think, yeah? Yes sir. [audience member muffled]
Audience Member: If you’re going to work, and you express gratitude to God for a number of things, but you don’t feel grateful, but you’re not doing it as a to-do list. Honestly you’re attempting to express gratitude, but there’s just no feeling of gratitude, will that help to heal you? Or do you need the feeling to be there too, before it has a healing effect?
Yeah, I’m not a counselor, a therapist, but I have some background in emotion. I always think that the more of the system that you can activate, the cognitive emotional system, and motivational as well, the affect is gonna be more powerful. So the feeling of gratitude, and I think the reverse is also true.
So if you have the internal feeling, you have the awareness plus the feeling, but then it’s not expressed, that’s not as powerful as if you have all three of those components, the awareness, the acknowledgement, and the cognitive state, which you see is the awareness of the good things, and then you can conjure up the feeling of grateful affect, which is gonna vary in intensity, because people are different in their level of emotional, it’s your emotional intensity, and for some they may feel gratitude very frequently, but it’s very mild.
And others, they may feel less often, but it’s very strong, and others who it’s strong and intense, and others who is less often and less intense. So you have all those combinations based on individual differences in temperament. But yeah, it’s gonna have I think more the capability of bringing about a healing, when you have all those elements involved, and you have the interpersonal component, too, where you have then the social healing that takes place, that won’t take place outside of the expression of it. [audience member muffled] [audience chuckling]
No that’s a great question, the cross-cultural trafficking in these kinds of concepts is very dangerous. I do think that gratitude is pretty close to a human universal concept. To say this you know that means 100% of the people all over experience it, it means the same thing. Obviously it means a different thing, but I think we all have that capacity to feel warm beneficial feelings toward someone who helps us. It would be very unusual, deviant, not to have that, first of all. But you’re right, the context for it is different, in different places around the world. It has a different meaning to it.
In some it’s just gifts are exchanged, on a clear tit for tat reciprocity. Favors are done, but there is no emotional component, go back to Professor Moreland’s point, there’s no emotional component to the gratitude, or the behavior, it’s just an exchange, purely maybe contractual, or purely part of the ritual within that culture. So we’ll pass a gift around and exchange gifts, but there’s no gratitude behind it, or you can have the grateful expressions maybe without the internal affect, as well. So I think of gratitude at different layers or levels of depth, from the simplest expressions of thank you, which is mere politeness or formality, to this gratitude as a very deep and enduring way of life, an orientation toward life itself, which now I think involves those three stones, probably a lot of other things, too, have this trait of gratefulness as just a way of looking at life, seeing all of life as gifted, and then there’s probably layers and levels in between, so that’s a good point.
There’s not that many yet, cultural studies, or even cross-cultural studies of gratitude. I think that’ll be the next focus too, in research. Actually there’s a lot of research coming out of China on gratitude, as it seems to be a very popular topic over there right now. Yeah, on this side. [audience member muffled] Adolescent. Yeah so, well, so I have a 16-year-old, and a 12-year-old, right, and I’m convinced that, gratitude is one of those things that is differentially distributed within families, like a lot of things, it’s one of the great mysteries of human behavior. How can different kids in the same family be so different?
So our 12-year-old’s always been pretty grateful. He’s getting a little corrupted now as he gets toward teenage years. The 16-year-old, never been grateful. Now it’s just different for whatever reason, and how do you, yeah that’s a great question. My colleagues that I’ve done some work with just published a book entitled, “Making Grateful Kids.” It’s all about developmental research on the emergence of gratitude. And kids notoriously are ungrateful, especially teenagers. Younger kids, it’s much easier for them to feel grateful.
In fact, it seems to come almost naturally to kids, because of the propensity for joy, or because they have an easier time with grace, than adults do. Justin Barrett writes about that in his book, “Born Believers,” that kids have an easier time with grace, because they don’t keep score, like adults do. They don’t say, like my sister does, well, how much did you spend on that present? Or kind of look it up, and then she’ll spend exactly the same amount on my kids’ presents, I spent on her kids’ presents.
So you invite someone over, and you want to have them over as soon as possible, because you don’t like that imbalance, that indebtedness. That’s not the way with kids. If it was, when the kids got to be 18, or had a job, they would pull out their checkbook and say, well how much do I owe you for all those years of meals? And restaurants, and hotels and stuff like that. They don’t do that, they just accept the gift without worrying about how to pay it back. So in some respects we think of them as this alien concept, gratitude, but yet grace seems to come very naturally to them at the same time, which I think can be a foundation.
But for 16-year-olds, the idea is that you just have to make them think it’s their idea. Instead of saying, okay, we’re gonna do a little gratitude circle now, isn’t that cool, right? They go, what are you talking about? That’s crazy. What a waste of time, or we’re gonna say what we’re thankful for at the table, you have them come up with some kind of family ritual, or tradition, and even if you suggest it. But then you make them think that it’s their idea, and then they buy into it. Then they like that better. And use whatever technology that they’re into.
So there’s been a lot of research studies now using social media as a way to actually create gratitude. So people use social media archives, people’s Facebook posts, pictures, archives, Instagram, for those who don’t like to read Facebook. And then they put all this stuff together, and they found out that’s a very effective way for developing creating gratitude. So use that stuff, so use the language that’s familiar to them, make them think it’s their choice that creates a buy-in on their part.
Audience Member: Maybe this is a little bit related to the [muffled] question, when you were talked about, when kids grow up they don’t think about writing a check back to their parents, they can accept the grace, but I’m wondering in your research or anything that they way entitlement affects our abilities.
Yeah so, I have a list of obstacles to gratitude, and the first one, at the top of the list, is entitlement. So expectation. I earned this, I deserve it, what blocks grace, right? I worked for it, why is it that people like Tchividjian are out there saying grace is so this radical thing. It’s so scandalous, it’s because we want to be in control of our outcomes.
We do something, we get something back. That’s the way the world works. If I do this, you do that. If I work hard, I get a paycheck. If I turn in a paper, I get an A, and so on and so forth. And that’s why grace turns that all upside down, why it’s such a crazy idea, and doesn’t make sense to a lot of people.
But entitlement, yeah. I expect to get this, I worked hard, I deserve it. So how can you be grateful for something that you’re entitled to? Because gratitude involves going above and beyond the entitlements. In fact yeah, that is the number one obstacle. In fact, tying together that last question, parents were asked in a survey, what’s their biggest fear for their kids? So it’s like you fear that what? They’re gonna get sick, or they won’t get a job, or they’ll be a victim of crime, or terrorism, or whatever it is, parents said they fear that they will grow up entitled, is what they said. That was their biggest fear, that they would have a sense of entitlement.
Audience Member: So thinking about gratitude, and it seems like someone is dependent on, well the first step is to look for the good. Is it dependent on, or is there any way that, what you find to be good, properly or improperly, for instance that is still, I think about your drug dealers [muffled], going to run his drugs for him, and he might be really grateful for that, but I don’t know if that’s improper–
No, right, I mean people were grateful to Hitler, and all, you can find examples like that, where there’s more [muffled]. There’s deviations from gratitude or healthy gratitude, there’s a lot of examples like that. But those are, that’s not gratitude itself, it’s the way gratitude is used, or the context in which it occurs, or represents all the pathology, whether it’s in the person or in the context of a relationship, or the way the choice is structured, that pathologizes the expression of the gratitude. It’s not gratitude per se that’s a bad thing, but the way it’s being used or expressed, which can be harmful, as you say.
There’s a whole, that’s a whole nother topic, like deviations, or the negative expressions of gratitude, which are not, if you think about it, it would seem to bring you benefits, but there cases like that that come up all the time. It’s quite likely that people who perform acts of, we tend to see the book, journal, “Psychology of Gratitude,” a collection of different chapters, and one author began with a case like that. It was right after September 11th, and he said, it’s quite likely that the terrorists had prayers of gratitude on their list as they were flying the aircraft into the buildings. That’s gratitude, but you won’t want to see gratitude used in that way. That’s a very legitimate point. Yes.
Audience Member: I just wanted to ask this little question for you. You’ve been studying gratitude for 15 years, has that made you more grateful, or has it made you look at it as a quantified item–
Yeah, obviously I do this because I think it’s important, but it depends who you ask. Good thing you’re asking me. So if you ask my wife, she says, how is it you’re supposed to be this big expert on gratitude? Because you’re like the least grateful person that I know. She says that to me, can you believe that? She says that. She doesn’t know enough people is what I always tell her. There’s way more ungrateful people than me out there.
She sees me in a lot of different contexts. And you see me, read a book or hear a talk, he must be Mister Gratitude. Yeah sure, I’m on a journey like everybody else is, and I write this stuff, and I talk about it as much for me as anybody else. I learned this a long time ago, when you start studying one of these things, that you think of it as a virtue, whether it’s forgiveness, or humility, or gratitude, it’s that you realize how far you have to go. I think of myself, I reflect often, on things I’m grateful for, and my entire life is that way.
I don’t do the things I tell people to do, like keep a gratitude journal, I just never found I needed to do that, it’s just always in my consciousness. So I’m certainly just more aware of its power, in my life, and the lives of people that I talk to. I see the potential there. What excites me is when people come, they say, gratitude changed my life. There’s this little old lady I correspond with in New Jersey. She’s 93 years old. I talk about her in “Gratitude Works,” I start the book with her, which she likes because she read, “Thanks,” and she said that this book changed her life. So I says, “Well I gotta write about you in my next book,” and she was quite okay with that, because she likes to be the center of attention anyway.
So she actually does YouTube stuff, and she’s talking about gratitude. She teaches courses, in her town, at the community college about gratitude, the transforming power of gratitude. She says that at age 87, it changed her life. Now she plans to live to be a hundred, because she’s practicing gratitude. So that’s pretty cool. There’s not many things when you’re 88 or 87 change your life. [audience member muffled]
The churches that I participate in, I see it, I attend Capital Christian Center in Sacramento, which is a pretty good-sized church, about 5,000 attendees on a given Sunday, three services. It’s my sense that it’s really a grateful-driven church, as opposed to purpose-driven church. Gratitude just seems to permeate the sermons, the worship, the worship leader who is the Executive Pastor, he says, “We’re here for one thing, “and that’s to say, thank you God.” It’s like everything is about thankfulness, it’s about gratitude. Obviously they go beyond that, but it seems to be a core theme that you’d notice right away.
So I can’t speak for other churches. I know that we’ve gotten very good reception of our research. It’s interesting that something that is well-documented, that there’s thousands of years of history, and hundreds of scriptures on the importance of gratitude, and thankfulness, and thanksgiving. There’s somehow a little bit extra power, a little bit more juice behind it, as it gets a little bit more supercharged, when you can actually put some numbers there. And say, hey, well you know, when somebody’s practicing gratitude, they’re 20% more joyful, or 15%, they sleep better, or the depression goes down 10%, because you’re dealing with real concerns, that real people have.
So that’s always great to see. People actually become more generous, when they become more grateful, so all the pastors I know, they like that part of it. They want me to come and lead their stewardship meetings, and talk about it. If you practice gratitude they’ll become more generous. It doesn’t work that easily, unfortunately, for them.
But I think the perception has been good. But again I think if we turn to the self-help project, it can backfire. When it’s in the proper context, of the message of the Gospel, and what Jesus did for us, as opposed to what we’re doing for Him. I think you’ve got to keep that front and center.
Man: Maybe one last question [muffled]. I see two, so let’s do two.
Okay. Oh sure, it’s easy for you.
Audience Member: So in my mind, I work as a nurse, and in my mind there’s a clear correlation between your second stone, which is the receiving of grace, and healing. And not that this is always a direct relationship, because like you said, the 10 lepers, they all were healed regardless.
But I can see that, so yeah, if you think your medicine, if you’re grateful for it, you’re gonna take it [muffled]. So I’m just thinking about all the ramifications, and I’m wondering if you could talk about, if there are any studies about that? Like, are grateful people more likely to have positive results from treatment?
Audience Member: What are ways that we can track [muffled].
Well we do know they take better care of themselves, so they’re more likely to go for regular checkups, more likely to exercise. They actually, they have a better diet, people who are keeping gratitude journals, they weren’t necessarily grateful to start with, but when they practiced journaling for gratitude, they actually ate a more healthy diet, so their fat intake decreased. Their cholesterol levels went down.
They actually lost weight, as well. So yeah, there’s a number of health benefits. So they engage in more health-promoting behaviors, and engage in less health-damaging behaviors, substance abuse. There was a study with teenagers, we didn’t do this study, it was a national survey of adolescents, and found that those who score high in gratitude, are way less likely to smoke, less likely to drink alcohol, so when you see your body as a gift, you want to take care of it. Oh I remember now, that’s another part of the Christian gratitude, is that when you see things as gifts, you sanctify them, so you take better care of them.
They mean something to you, there’s a giver behind the gift, and you want to treat that gift in accord with the giver’s intention. So that’s a good illustration, you take better care of your body, because as you know as a nurse, it’s the only one you’ve got. That’s what grateful people do. But not a lot of published studies so far, but a few of them, all point in that direction.
Man: One more I think.
Audience Member: Is there any correlation with gratitude and [muffled] temperament? So are there areas where people have shown [muffled].
Yeah, so the social virtues, things like empathy, and forgiveness, or forgivingness, generosity, they tend to be this cluster, which go together. Agreeableness is another one of the main personality characteristics. People who want to get along with others, they’re more prone to seeing benevolence in their relationships, and in their world. Their threshold for noticing kindness is lower, so they’re more likely to see kindness, they’re more likely to interpret a neutral behavior as a kind behavior, for example.
There’s also a lot of stuff which goes against gratitude, things that predicted a negative fashion, things like a sense of entitlement, narcissistic entitlement, hostility, disagreeableness. So there’s things which move a person, make it easier to notice gratitude and feel gratitude and things which get in the way of it. So yeah, that’s another good point, too, in terms of some of the things that enable it, but also block it, and get in the way of it. But regardless of where a person is on personality traits, we find that people move, they shift, on a measure of gratitude, after systematic practice, so you’re not set, you’re not stuck with a certain level of gratitude either. [bright acoustic music]