ctedu logo
Open Menu

At the Root of Gratitude

December 01, 2020 by John Andrew Williams

At the Root of Gratitude

At the Root of Gratitude

Every once in a while I run across a bit of research so insightful, I can feel my own paradigm shift. Over the past two months, I’ve been immersed in dusting off some research on gratitude. It’s been a well-timed search. While the outside world offers more complex challenges than ever, I find working to gain knowledge a useful antidote to the madness. And putting together something to share with my community of life coaches, deeply fulfilling.

My goal over the next few weeks is to share the deepest insights I’ve learned about gratitude from my research. I also want to share a few exercises I’ve designed and the feedback I’ve learned from recent discussions and conversations in life coach training courses I’ve led. 

My bottom-line, key, most significant takeaway is this: gratitude works. 

People who consciously set aside time to reflect on things and experiences they appreciate are happier, healthier, and more productive. Happiness is not so much a state that results from getting what we want. Rather, it’s an emotional state that we can cultivate that makes us more productive, generous, and loving. So let’s start the exploration by briefly looking a working definition of gratitude and what positive psychologists point to as its four main facets. 

Gratitude Defined

At the root of gratitude is recognition for receiving a gift. Themes of gratitude as a gift are woven deeply into many different aspects of society. The idea of receiving a gift is at the center of every major religion. Indeed gratitude can be experienced as both personal–thankful for what someone else has done for you–and transpersonal, thankful to nature, God, or the universe. 

Both aspects have been covered by positive psychology. Fitzgerald (1998) analyzed personal gratitude as requiring: 

  1. Feeling appreciative for a gift
  2. Acknowledging a sense of goodwill toward the giver
  3. Inclination to act or express appreciation

In looking at transpersonal gratitude, Maslow (1964) and later Mayhalli (1990) both looked at appreciation as a key element of peak experience. A common expression of people who experience peak experiences is a sense of deep gratitude for experience and the journey that led to it. 

Both personal and transpersonal gratitude share similar ideas of the recognition of a gift and the expression of thanks. To dive a little deeper–and get more precise with your own measurement of gratitude–let’s take a look at four facets. (Emmons 2002) 

The Four Facets of Gratitude

One of the most challenging parts of studying an emotion is trying to measure it. Sometimes it helps to break down a concept into facets and ask more specific questions. Let’s take a look: 

1. Frequency – How often you feel grateful

      A. How often do you feel grateful in one day?

      B. When are you aware of your first grateful thought?

      C. When is the last time   you can remember being actively, deeply grateful for someone doing something for you

      D. When was the last time you wrote a thank you note?

      E. When was the last time you wrote an unprompted email of thanks? 

2. Intensity – How strongly you feel a sense of appreciation

      A. On average how deeply do you feel grateful?

      B. How immersive is your first thought of gratefulness upon waking up?

      C. How immersive are your feelings of thankfulness before you go to sleep on average?

3. Density – the number of people or elements you thank when considering something you appreciate

      A. When considering a blessing in your life, how many people come to mind to thank? 

      B. When looking at a gift received, to what degree do you think about not just the giver, the store employees, the maker, and the raw ingredients?

      C. How often do you recognize someone’s effort in making something happen, no matter how small or large a part they played?

4. Span – the number of areas of aspects of your life that you consistently feel grateful for 

      A. How many areas in your life do you feel grateful for on a daily basis? 

      B. To what degree do you feel gratitude for one area of your life matches the gratitude you feel in another? 

      C. What’s your habit of feeling grateful even for setbacks or challenges? 

Considering this list for me has made a difference in how I see and relate to gratitude. I encourage you to ask yourself these questions and consider how you would measure your own degree of gratitude. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share a few recent exercises I’ve developed. As we enter into a season of reflection and gratitude, I’m excited to share a few of the exercises and concepts that I’ve been leaning into lately. 

And what I know to be true, what we measure increases. I encourage you to rate, right now and write it down, your current level of each facet of gratitude.

Transform your journey with
Coach Training EDU