Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life
Robert A. Emmons University of California, Davis
Michael E. McCullough University of Miami
The effect of a grateful outlook on psychological and physical well-being was examined.
In Studies 1 and 2, participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 experimental conditions (hassles, gratitude listing, and either neutral life events or social comparison);
they then kept weekly (Study 1) or daily (Study 2) records of their moods, coping behaviors, health behaviors, physical symptoms, and overall life appraise-
In a 3rd study, persons with neuromuscular disease were randomly assigned to either the gratitude condition or to a control condition.
The gratitude-outlook groups exhibited heightened well-being across several, though not all, of the outcome measures across the 3 studies, relative to the comparison groups.
The effect on positive affect appeared to be the most robust finding. Results suggest that a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits.
Reflect on your present blessings, on which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.
—Charles Dickens (M. Dickens, 1897, p. 45)
The construct of gratitude has inspired considerable interest in the general public. The prevalence of books targeted to general audiences on the topic (Breathnach, 1996; Hay, 1996; Miller, 1995; Ryan, 1999; Steindl-Rast, 1984; Turner, 1998; Van Kaam & Muto, 1993) testify to this concept’s widespread appeal.
Following a similar format, these popular books generally consist of reflections on the value of gratefulness, along with strategies for cultivating an attitude of gratitude. The essential message of these volumes is that a life oriented around gratefulness is the panacea for insatiable yearnings and life’s ills.
Grateful responses to life, we are told, can lead to peace of mind, happiness, physical health, and deeper, more satisfying personal relationships. Although in- intuitively compelling, many of the general claims in popular books concerning the power of a grateful lifestyle are speculative and as yet scientifically untested.
In one popular book on gratitude, for instance, the author asserts that “Whatever we are waiting for— peace of mind, contentment, grace . . . it will surely come to us, but only when we are ready to receive it with an open and grateful heart” (Breathnach, 1996). Gratitude has also had a long past in the history of ideas. Across
cultures and time, experiences, and expressions of gratitude have
been treated as both basic and desirable aspects of human personality and social life.