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It did what? Proof Positive Studies on the Science of Gratitude

Tags: gratitude

Conscious Life Space

It’s all in the science, Gratitude – it’s good for you. It makes your life better. Here are a few tidbits or studies on the science of gratitude, the actual benefits of practicing gratitude and why it works to enhance our lives.

Tidbit One: Gratitude Increases Well-being

The science says that gratitude is uniquely fundamental to our psychological well-being. It’s scientifically documented in this study this published study done in the UK by Wood, Joseph, and Maltby. It tests whether gratitude predicts psychological well-being above both “the domains and facets of the five-factor model” (Big Five.) Um…okay so WTF is the five-factor model and their domains and facets for some of the non-scientists?

First the Big Five, they are personality traits as defined in the west and based on cultures stemming from the English language (US, UK, Australia, Canada)

  1. Extraversion
  2. Agreeableness
  3. Conscientiousness
  4. Openness
  5. Neuroticism

They — the Big Five — exclude a sixth which is often included in other cultures – Honesty and Humility — which are included as one attribute or the H. This is called the HEXACO model of personality — 6 attributes derived all from the English language.

Personally, I really think the science people with all their rules, and regulations are a little loosey-goosey combining Honesty with Humility. Sure they go together as fine traits but one does not require the other and, on a side note, believe that if you want to provide a group of H words then let us include humanity too.

Honesty, Humility and Humanity

This brings us to the fact that other approaches to research consider persons who are native to the region and their cultural traits that differ from English speaking countries expanding on the attributes, including countries like  India, Korea, Greece, and others.

The Chinese utilize a separate model that includes the five and things like harmony and several others. So, let’s add Harmony to the Hs! Looks like honesty, humility, and humanity may just result in harmony. I get a little side-tracked sometimes, but I’m trying to make science fun. This is precisely why I didn’t include the empirical science in my book, Gratitude Shmatitude.

Have you fallen asleep yet? I hope not!

The science people (aka scientists) measured gratitude and how it connected to the scales used to measure psychological well-being.

“Gratitude explained a substantial amount of a unique variance in most aspects of psychological well-being. Gratitude is concluded to be uniquely important to psychological well-being, beyond the effect of the Big Five facets.” [1]

There are 30 facets to the Big Five or some such thing… The bottom line is they measured the connection of gratitude and summarily came up with these two points. (Remember the first one when reading Tidbit Two)

  1. autonomy – lower connection
  2. environmental mastery, personal growth, positive relationships, purpose in life and self-acceptance – higher connection

Are you prepared for the next gratitude fact?

Tidbit Two: Men Express Gratitude Less and to Fewer People than Women

Men express gratitude less and to fewer people than women. This isn’t man-bashing. This is science. Yes, I had to say it, because a lot of people are ultra sensitive these days on the man stuff. Of course, there are invariably many men who express gratitude and some women who do not express gratitude. Science studies and segregates and typically categorizes us by sex…Just sayin’!

The fact that men express gratitude less is one fact that makes me sad because some men don’t recognize what they are missing out on, it can enhance their lives and the lives of those that they are in a relationship within both their business and personal lives.

“Women are more likely than men to express gratitude on a regular basis (52 percent women/44 percent men), feel that they have much in life to be thankful [for] (64 percent women/50 percent of men), and express gratitude to a wider variety of people.”[2]

The John Templeton Foundation, found evidence of a gratitude gender gap when they compiled the results of a 2012 survey of 2,000 Americans. The struggle is real! Men are twice as likely to feel that they are obligated to repay a “benefit” than women. Men find it to be a social burden in American culture as compared to some other Western countries.

What came up is the idea of indebtedness or obligation and as hard as it is to fathom for some – heartfelt gratitude need not represent a debt. If it is there is a flaw in the giving, and it isn’t really giving anything at all. In fact, to me, that is a flawed argument and can even turn into a manipulation. When you do something for someone or provide something to someone, it absolutely is required that you do so without expectation or reciprocation. It is not up to you to determine how the recipient will use the thing that you willingly gave them. You are in command of your life, not theirs.

What’s more remarkable is that even though gratitude comes more naturally or through social conditioning to women than men, one study from 2015 by the Watkins’ group found that male students who used gratitude journals became significantly more thankful by the end of the four-week experiment. Also, men who kept a daily gratitude list where they wrote down three things they were grateful for each day for a week were significantly happier compared to women who performed the same daily task. Which brings us to the next science of gratitude fact – we benefit from practicing gratitude and our brains recognize the benefits.

Tidbit Three: Gratitude Has Measurable Lasting Effects

Another study (looked at and documented the profound effects of gratitude expression on neural activity. The published authors noted that expressions of gratitude are measurable in and found in cognitive regions. A brief gratitude writing intervention not only increased sensitivity to gratitude but also persisted three months later = long-term measurable lasting effects.

In this study, the science people wanted to measure the impact that specific actions related to gratitude would have on the brain. They recruited subjects who were suffering from anxiety and/or depression, and all of them were entering therapy. They divided them into two groups.

One group would undertake specific actions like writing letters of gratitude and after three months when performing ‘pay it forward’ tasks their neural activity was measured and quantifiable results recorded using the fMRI scanner documenting the changes. They completed this along with their therapy. The second group would not perform any tasks and would only undergo therapy.

The group that performed letter writing and other pay it forward activities showed neural activity that was specific to gratitude and distinct from brain regions activated by empathy or theory of mind.

In there were cross-sectional studies between groups. The findings were significant in that they found –

“a simple gratitude writing intervention was associated with significantly greater and lasting neural sensitivity to gratitude – subjects who participated in gratitude letter writing showed both behavioral increases in gratitude and significantly greater neural modulation by gratitude in the medial prefrontal cortex three months later.” [3]

Summing it all up: Gratitude works.

There were more studies to cite and even more ‘tidbits’ to report. All the science behind gratitude is necessary and even fascinating sometimes when the scientists passionately report their findings. The truth is that the science or should I say the language used to write about it puts me to sleep. So let me close with this –

All of the studies are simply confirming that gratitude works.

Gratitude, like yoga, has remarkable mental and physical health benefits. Still, it’s taken the Western scientific community so very long to finally study it and confirm what many people knew all along – it works! It’s good for you. It makes your life better. That really is the main takeaway here – do gratitude, do yoga, do stuff that is good for you. Practice kindness and remember there is only now. You’ll be happier, and that will have a ripple effect on the world around you.

What has been your experience with gratitude? Do you have a regular practice? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page or down below in the comments. You can also read more about gratitude and some traditions around it in our article Thanksgiving: Remembering History, a Ritual and a Blessing and Saying ‘Thank You’ Makes a Difference.

If you want to practice gratitude, check out my gratitude book webpage and download the free guided gratitude meditation (also available on YouTube), and the free printable gratitude journal & workbook and plus more.

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Amy Adams
Editor at Conscious Life Space
Amy Adams is the editor of Conscious Life Space a lifestyle blog that focuses on living life consciously. Amy is an entrepreneur, publisher and creative. She hosts Conscious Life Space’s Conversations, a talk show distributed as a podcast. She is also a fine artist, periodic code warrior, supreme lover of dogs, epic gardener, and sometime self-proclaimed yoga goddess.

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[1] Alex M.Wood, Stephen Joseph & John Maltby, (2008) Gratitude predicts psychological well-being above the Big Five facets, Personality and Individual Differences, ISSN: 0191-8869, Vol: 46, Issue: 4, Page: 443-447, Publication Year: 2009 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2008.11.012

[2] Philip C. Watkins, Jens Uhder & Stan Pichinevskiy (2015) Grateful recounting enhances subjective well-being: The importance of grateful processing, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10:2, 91-98,DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2014.927909

[3] Prathik Kini, Joel Wong Sydney, McInnis, Nicole Gabana & Joshua W.Brown, (2015) The effects of gratitude expression on neural activity, The effects of gratitude expression on neural activity, NeuroImage, Volume 128, March 2016, Pages 1-10, DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.12.040

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It did what? Proof Positive Studies on the Science of Gratitude


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