Gratitude is being thankful for; people, situations and circumstances in life; what you have received, experienced and learned; resources within yourself; abundance within; what you give and forgive; your inner qualities; future positive experiences, prosperity and blessings” (Friedman, 1989 & 2000)

Effectiveness of gratitude

The construct and benefits of gratitude have been demonstrated in numerous studies, showing positive contribution to overall well-being of people, such as an increase in positive emotions (Emmons, & McCullough, 2003; Fredrickson, 2004; Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, & Schkade, 2005), greater level of optimism (Emmons et al, 2003; Froh, Yurkewicz, & Kashdan, 2009). The construct has also been shown to reduce the effects of stress and depression, through effectively reappraising one’s situation in a positive manner (Fredrickson, Tugade, Waugh, &Larkin, 2003). In a world of increasing material value, gratitude has been shown to reduce this need, sharing more with less envy (Lambert, Fincham, Stillman, & Dean, 2009).

Individual: trait or state

Gratitude is regarded as either a trait (dispositional) or state. As a trait an individual practices gratitude as part of their daily life (McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang, 2002), gratitude is also considered a character strength, which if not among the top character strengths of an individual, can be developed (Peterson, & Seligman, 2004). The emotion a person experiences from another individual’s expression of gratitude is referred to as state (Watkins, Van Gelder, & Frias, 2009).

Social networks

Gratitude can be observed at an individual level, with its subsequent effects, or at a greater social level. Research has shown that the practice of gratitude can create a greater social circle of good. The recipient of gratitude may not reciprocate directly back, but in turn, may lend a favour to a third party, effectively expanding a network of good (Chang, Lin, & Chen, 2011). This research supports Fredrickson’s (2004a,b) broaden and build theory, which posits expanding social networks, to build better social support. Effectively gratitude can therefore create a social network which can help individuals both advance (career, goals) and better cope in life.

Moderators

There are moderators which act on the effectiveness of gratitude. Chang et al (2011) demonstrated that gratitude was less effective for individuals who had higher levels of ambivalence. This indicates a cautionary to practitioners utilizing gratitude as a therapy, moderating factors may influence effectiveness and outcomes.

Application of gratitude

Naikon originated in Japan, focuses the individual to looking inside oneself. This approach has not been widely researched, however is acknowledged because it not only contains many of the attributes of other researched approaches, but the technique is regarded as the most engaging (Bono, & McCullough, 2006; Emmons, 2007; Krech, 2002). Benefit findings is the searching for the positive from one’s adverse situation (Affleck, & Tennan, 1996; Hegelson, Reynolds, & Tomich, 2006). Lastly, a gratitude journal is used to record reflections on one’s gratitude on a periodic basis over an extended time (Breathnach, 1995; Emmons, 2004; Emmons et al, 2003).


Gratitude Letter Reflection: An example

My letter of gratitude was intended for my wife, for although deep down I appreciate what my wife does for me, I seldom express this.

I found that putting onto paper what I was grateful for was not difficult, what I was really unsure of was the timing of reading the letter to my wife. I wanted to make sure that we had quality time with each other, without interruption. Whilst constructing the letter I felt a flurry of emotion, how happy my life is with my family, how fortunate I am.

I made a decision to read the letter to make wife the Saturday evening after dinner, we had a baby sitter for the night, and this made sense to have no interruptions and enjoy each other’s feelings afterward. Before reading the letter to my wife, I announced to her the intention of the letter content, that is, to express my gratitude to her. I was not nervous; I found what I had written to be of truth and deep down appreciation, which appeared to give me composure.

Whilst reading the letter I noticed a deep connection between the two of us. I took my time to be sure I highlighted the most important points in my letter, glancing at my wife periodically, I guess to indicate best my sincerity of my message. My wife was very grateful for the message conveyed, and requested a copy for keepsake. Although emotional, we took the time to hold each other and reconfirm our commitment together.

I felt really content afterward, I experienced very heart-felt feelings, how much I really do appreciate my wife and what she has given me in my life. I experienced the act of creating a gratitude letter to reveal truths within me, acting too as an inspiration. I felt a sense of pride of being able to share my feelings with such an important person in my life. I recently got retrenched, but feel blessed with what I actually have in my life, providing a sense of positive being and greater sense of hope about our future as a family.

An important reflection was the conscious realization that life is not just about me, but proudly about my family, and what we are and can achieve together.

Final thoughts

The brief literature review presented above, indicates the application and effectiveness of gratitude, the positive outcome/s possible through application of a relatively uncomplicated exercise, which I experienced through the compiling and communicating a letter of gratitude to my wife.

Personally, expression of gratitude must be sincere to experience the positive effect (the feelings, thoughts and emotions I experienced both constructing my message, and afterward), also conveying sincerity in both content and feelings expressed to the recipient of your gratitude.

The gratitude letter was a strong experience for me, having recently lost my job, it opened my eyes to the fact that I have so much more in my life, allowing thought into constructive options that we have, and providing me with a sense of hope, strength and will power to pursue my career.

So often we look for material gifts for special occasions, but the simplistic form of expressing gratitude holds so much more value in so many ways.


References

Affleck, G., & Tennen, H. (1996). Construing benefits from adversity: Adaptational significance and dispositional underpinnings. Journal of Personality, 64, 899-922. In Young, M.E., & Hutchinson, T.S. (2011). The Rediscovery of Gratitude: Implications for Counseling Practice, USA: Journal of Humanistic Counseling, April 2012, Volume 51

Bono, G., & McCullough, M. (2006). Positive responses to benefit and harm: Bringing forgiveness and gratitude into cognitive psychotherapy. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy,20, 147-158. In Young, M.E., & Hutchinson, T.S. (2011). The Rediscovery of Gratitude: Implications for Counseling Practice, USA: Journal of Humanistic Counseling, April 2012, Volume 51

Breathnach, S. B. (1995). Simple abundance: A daybook of comfort and joy. New York, NY: Warner Books. In Young, M.E., & Hutchinson, T.S. (2011). The Rediscovery of Gratitude: Implications for Counseling Practice, USA: Journal of Humanistic Counseling, April 2012, Volume 51

Chang, Y., Lin, Y., & Chen, L. H. (2011) Pay it Forward: Gratitude in Social Networks. USA: Springer Science + Busienss Media B. V. 2011.

Emmons, R. A., & McCuUough, 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. In Young, M.E., & Hutchinson, T.S. (2011). The Rediscovery of Gratitude: Implications for Counseling Practice, USA: Journal of Humanistic Counseling, April 2012, Volume 51

Emmons, R. A. (2004). The psychology of gratitude: An introduction. In R. A. Enunons & M. McCuUough (Eds.), The psychology of gratitude (pp. 3-16). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. In Young, M.E., & Hutchinson, T.S. (2011). The Rediscovery of Gratitude: Implications for Counseling Practice, USA: Journal of Humanistic Counseling, April 2012, Volume 51

Emmons, R. A. (2007). Thanks: How the science of gratitude can make you happier. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. In Young, M.E., & Hutchinson, T.S. (2011). The Rediscovery of Gratitude: Implications for Counseling Practice, USA: Journal of Humanistic Counseling, April 2012, Volume 51

Friedman, P. H. (1989). Creating well-being: The healing path to love, peace, self-esteem and happiness. Saratoga, CA: R and E Publishers. In Toussaint, L., & Friedman, P. (2008). Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Well-Being: The Mediating Role of Affect and Beliefs, USA: Springer Science + Business Media B. V. 2008

Friedman, P. H. (2000). Integrative healing manual. Plymouth Meeting, PA: Foundation for Well-Being. In Toussaint, L., & Friedman, P. (2008). Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Well-Being: The Mediating Role of Affect and Beliefs, USA: Springer Science + Business Media B. V. 2008

Fredrickson, B. L. (2004). Gratitude, like other positive emotions, broadens and builds. In R. Emmons & M. E. McCuUough (Eds.), The psychology of gratitude (pp. 145-166). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. In Young, M.E., & Hutchinson, T.S. (2011). The Rediscovery of Gratitude: Implications for Counseling Practice, USA: Journal of Humanistic Counseling, April 2012, Volume 51

Fredrickson, B. L. (2004a). The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 359(1449), 1367. In Chang, Y., Lin, Y., & Chen, L. H. (2011) Pay it Forward: Gratitude in Social Networks. USA: Springer Science + Busienss Media B. V. 2011.

Fredrickson, B. L. (2004b). Gratitude, like other positive emotions, broadens and builds. In R. A. Emmons &M. E. McCullough (Eds.), The psychology of gratitude (pp. 145–166). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. In Chang, Y., Lin, Y., & Chen, L. H. (2011) Pay it Forward: Gratitude in Social Networks. USA: Springer Science + Busienss Media B. V. 2011.

Froh, J., Yurkewicz, C, & Kashdan, T (2009). Gratitude and subjective well-being in early adolescence: Examirüng gender differences. Journal of Adolescence, 32, 633-650. In Young, M.E., & Hutchinson, T.S. (2011) The Rediscovery of Gratitude: Implications for Counseling Practice, USA: Journal of Humanistic Counseling, April 2012, Volume 51

Hegelson, V. S., Reynolds, K. A., & Tomich, P. L. (2006). A meta-analytic review of benefit finding and growth. Journal of Clinical and Consulting Psychology, 74, 797-816. In Young, M.E., & Hutchinson, T.S. (2011). The Rediscovery of Gratitude: Implications for Counseling Practice, USA: Journal of Humanistic Counseling, April 2012, Volume 51

Krech, G. (2002). Naikan: Gratitude, grace, and the Japanese art of self-refiection. Berkeley, CA: Stone Ridge Press. In Young, M.E., & Hutchinson, T.S. (2011). The Rediscovery of Gratitude: Implications for Counseling Practice, USA: Journal of Humanistic Counseling, April 2012, Volume 51

Lambert, N. M., Graham, S. M., Fincham, F. D., & Stillman, T. F. (2009). A changed perspective: How gratitude can affect a sense of coherence through positive reframing. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4, 461-470. In Young, M.E., & Hutchinson, T.S. (2011). The Rediscovery of Gratitude: Implications for Counseling Practice, USA: Journal of Humanistic Counseling, April 2012, Volume 51

Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9,111-131. In Young, M.E., & Hutchinson, T.S. (2011) The Rediscovery of Gratitude: Implications for Counseling Practice, USA: Journal of Humanistic Counseling, April 2012, Volume 51

McCullough, M. E., Emmons, R. A., & Tsang, J. A. (2002). The grateful disposition: A conceptual and empirical topography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 112. In Young, M.E., & Hutchinson, T.S. (2011). The Rediscovery of Gratitude: Implications for Counseling Practice, USA: Journal of Humanistic Counseling, April 2012, Volume 51

Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification.Oxford University Press. In Toussaint, L., & Friedman, P. (2008). Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Well-Being: The Mediating Role of Affect and Beliefs, USA: Springer Science + Business Media B. V. 2008.

Young, M.E., & Hutchinson, T.S. (2011). The Rediscovery of Gratitude: Implications for Counseling Practice, USA: Journal of Humanistic Counseling, April 2012, Volume 51

Watkins, P C, Van Gelder, M., & Frias, A. (2009). Furthering the science of gratitude. In S. Lopez & C. R. Snyder (Eds.), Oxford handbook of positive psychology (pp. 437-445). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. In Young, M.E., & Hutchinson, T.S. (2011). The Rediscovery of Gratitude: Implications for Counseling Practice, USA: Journal of Humanistic Counseling, April 2012, Volume 51

Author: Gary Cuthbert

Source: Showing Your Gratitude to the Ones You Love