Gratitude makes a difference

by Ryan Streeter on December 26, 2013. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Don’t wait for feelings of gratitude to overtake you when someone does something nice for you. Instead, get in the habit of expressing thanks, and if you have kids, make them do so, too. Why?

Gratitude works like a muscle. Take time to recognize good fortune, and feelings of appreciation can increase. Even more, those who are less grateful gain the most from a concerted effort. “Gratitude treatments are most effective in those least grateful,” says Eastern Washington University psychology professor Philip Watkins.

It turns out there’s some interesting social science on the topic:

Among a group of 122 elementary school kids taught a weeklong curriculum on concepts around giving, gratitude grew, according to a study due to be published in 2014 in School Psychology Review. The heightened thankfulness translated into action: 44% of the kids in the curriculum opted to write thank-you notes when given the choice following a PTA presentation. In the control group, 25% wrote notes.

The effects of gratitude are not trivial and limited to producing an urge to write thank-you notes:

A 2008 study of 221 kids published in the Journal of School Psychology analyzed sixth- and seventh-graders assigned to list five things they were grateful for every day for two weeks. It found they had a better outlook on school and greater life satisfaction three weeks later, compared with kids assigned to list five hassles.

The effects go beyond a heightened sense of optimism, though, reaching to school performance and other benefits:

Another study examined 1,035 high-school students outside New York City. The study, published in 2010 in the Journal of Happiness Studies, found that those who showed high levels of gratitude, for instance thankfulness for the beauty of nature and strong appreciation of other people, reported having stronger GPAs, less depression and envy and a more positive outlook than less grateful teens.

Further, teens who strongly connected buying and owning things with success and happiness reported having lower GPAs, more depression and a more negative outlook. “Materialism had just the opposite effect as gratitude—almost like a mirror,” says study co-author Jeffrey Froh, associate professor of psychology at Hofstra University.

The article is here.