As we enter the autumn season and celebrate Thanksgiving, it seems appropriate to focus our thinking towards gratefulness because research proves that gratefulness is good for you.

I sometimes surprise myself at how often I complain. Okay, maybe not always out loud, but to myself. What is it that makes me chose to see the glass as half empty more often than seeing it half full? Is it my natural disposition? Is it a learned response? And most importantly, how can I resist this tendency and turn my thinking around?

Much recent research suggests that gratefulness is one of the strongest links to mental health and well-being. Grateful people are happier, less depressed and stressed and more satisfied with their lives and social relationships. This allows them to feel control of their environments, personal growth and self-acceptance. Grateful people also have less negative coping strategies, being less likely to try to avoid the problem, deny there is a problem, blame themselves or cope through substance use. And since they have less negative thoughts floating around, they also sleep better!

Much psychological research into gratitude has focused on the nature of individual difference in gratitude, and the consequences of being a more or less grateful person. There are three scales to measure individual differences in gratitude:

  • GQ6
  • Appreciation Scale
  • Gratitude Resentment and Appreciation Test (GRAT)

The GQ6 is a short, self-report measure of the disposition to experience gratitude and measures individual differences in how frequently and intensely people feel gratitude. It takes less than 5 minutes to complete but there is no time limit. It assesses gratitude as a single factor, based on the frequency, intensity and density of grateful effect. Participants answer 6 items on a 1 to 7 scale (1 = “strongly disagree”, 7 = “strongly agree”). Their scores indicate their level of optimism, life satisfaction, hope, spirituality and religiousness, forgiveness, empathy and pro-social behavior. It also indicates and individual’s tendency to depression, anxiety, materialism and envy.

The GRAT scale assesses gratitude towards others and the world in general and a lack of resentment for what you do not have. In this assessment gratitude involves: appreciation of people, appreciation of life, and the absence of feelings of deprivation or sense of abundance.

The Appreciation Scale measures 8 different aspects of gratitude, including: appreciation of people, possessions, the present moment, rituals, feeling of awe, social comparisons, existential concerns and behaviour that expresses gratitude. There are clearly similarities between all three gratitude scales. However, the Appreciation Scale considerably widens the conception of gratitude, including dimensions not represented in either instrument.

These scales have shown an excellent ability to predict well-being, and have been highly instrumental in the fast growth of gratitude research. Each of these three scales measures the same way of approaching life and suggests that individual differences include all these components of gratefulness.

While many emotions and personality traits are important to well-being, there is evidence that gratitude may be uniquely important. First, a longitudinal study in 2008 showed that people who were more grateful coped better with a life transition. Specifically, people who were more grateful before the transition were less stressed, less depressed, and more satisfied with their relationships three months later. Furthermore, feelings of gratitude are able to explain aspects of well-being that other personality traits cannot.

As we enter the autumn season and celebrate Thanksgiving, it seems appropriate to focus our thinking towards gratefulness. Research by Watson and colleagues in 2003 and Seligman et al in 2005 provides several useful strategies for cultivating and increasing our sense of gratitude:

  1. Think about a living person for whom you are grateful and write about them.
  2. Take a “gratitude visit”—Write and deliver a letter of gratitude to someone in your life.
    • This technique showed a rise in happiness scores by 10 percent and a significant fall in depression scores, results which lasted up to one month after the visit.
  3. Start writing a “gratitude journal”
    • Participants who wrote down three things they were grateful for each day experienced happiness scores that continued to increase each time they were tested periodically after the experiment. In fact, the greatest benefits occurred around six months after they began their journals. This exercise proved so successful that although participants were only asked to continue the journal for a week, many of them continued to keep the journal long after the study was over.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to share these findings with you and hope you’re grateful to receive them.

Sally Stanleigh

Sally Stanleigh is a senior partner in Business Improvement Architects and the Chief Operating Officer. Sally manages the operation and develops and implements communications, marketing and promotion programs. She is also responsible for spearheading and managing the company's corporate research projects. Sally has a background in marketing and communications and previously worked as a senior product manager with multi-national corporations such as Colgate-Palmolive and Phillip Morris before founding Business Improvement Architects with her husband and partner, Michael Stanleigh. On occasion, Sally is asked by clients for help with business planning. She facilitates the planning process as a consultant and helps clients with the development of their marketing plans and programs. She has also presented to professional groups on such topics as: customer feedback systems, employee motivation, development of incentive programs and trends. You may contact her at sstanleigh@bia.ca.