November 25, 2019 by John Andrew Williams
The beauty in the design of the human psyche is worthy of wonder. The basis of the design is balance. Human thinking is balanced between two different systems, System 1 and System 2 from Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. The human nervous system comprised of a sympathetic and parasympatheic systems set to counter purposes. And it seems that the counter balance to selfishness, loneliness, entitlement, and anger is appreciation and gratitude. Gratitude acts as soothing balm and counter balance to anger and resentment as one travels the ups and downs life offers.
The following is a summary of Chapter 24: Gratitude found in the Character Strengths & Virtues. This research review is part of a series looking at different aspects of character and virtues to explore a unifying theory of coaching. Gratitude plays a role in organizing social roles and exchange and is generally seen as something desirable to express and cultivate. Let’s start with looking at the definition of gratitude, some its defining characteristics, a little bit of theory, then exercises on how to cultivate more gratitude and its benefits.
According to Fitzgerald, gratitude consists of a sense of appreciation for something, a sense of thankfulness toward the source, and a feeling to take reciprocal action (Fitzgerald, 1998). From this construct, gratitude is a social construct and expression of value being delivered from one person to another. Gratitude in this sense is personal gratitude. Maslow distinguishes another type of gratitude, he termed transpersonal. Gratitude in this sense is given to God, the cosmos, or a higher power (Maslow 1964).
In studying the measures and aspects of gratitude, four useful distinctions can be made about the facets of gratitude. Those aspects are:
Those different measures are The Gratitude Questionnaire and Gratitude Adjective Checklist by McCullough, Emmons, and Tsang (2002) and The GRAT (Gratitude, Resentment, Appreciation Test) by Watkins et alteri (1998). Why Gratitude Matters:
Gratitude seems to be one of the traits that can absolutely be honed by practice. Many of the interventions in gratitude, from writing in a gratitude journal for at least 5 minutes a day to working through explore a range of non-grateful to gratitude-filled perspectives of past experiences, share a few characteristics outlined here:
One of my favorite takeaways from the chapter are the excellent studies that show the benefits of cultivating gratitude. I love the study of Danner et al. study on gratitude and longevity. I also appreciated how gratitude weaves together aspects of the very personal relationship with the divine and the extremely public organization of society and economic interactions.
But perhaps my favorite takeaway is the confirmation that gratitude is a forward-feeding emotion. People who feel more grateful are more likely to express thanks and act in ways that prompt others to feel thankful as well. It’s a self-generating emotion. The real question is: how are you going to get the cycle going?
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Danner, D.D. Snowdon, D.A. & Friesen, W.V. (2001). Positive emotions in early life and longevity: Findings from the nun study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 804-813. Emmons, R.A., & Hill J. (2001). Words of gratitude for the mind, body, and soul. Radnor, PA: Templeton Foundation Press. McCullough, M.E., Emmons, R.A., & Tsang, J. (2002). The Grateful Disposition: A Conceptual and Empirical Topography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 112-127.
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