What is Gratitude?


Gratitude is a personality trait, a mood, and an emotion. As an emotion, gratitude is a feeling of happiness that comes from appreciation. While under a grateful mood, grateful emotions are more likely to traffic. Likewise, those with a more grateful personality are more likely to experience grateful moods and emotions.

Gratitude is considered a core component of many religions. For example, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all encourage gratitude towards others, but especially towards God.

From a secular perspective, gratitude is one of the most effective methods for increasing long-term life satisfaction. Because of the hedonic treadmill, long-term changes in happiness are much harder to create than commonly thought – humans are remarkably adaptable, especially to the good in life.

What is Gratitude?

Colloquially, gratitude is an expression of thanks and appreciation. However, gratitude has its origins as a distinct emotion. Typically, the feeling lasts for only a few seconds, as a recognition of the intentional, beneficial actions of others.

Although it’s considered socially appropriate to show gratitude when due, the benefits of gratitude make that consideration irrelevant – feel gratitude and experience a pleasant emotion, or feel ingratitude and experience nothing. Dozens of studies have shown the same result – gratitude is like a skill, which can be trained. With practice and the right perspective, there will always be many things to be grateful for.

In addition to having three forms – emotion, mood, and personality, gratitude has four additional dimensions:

  • Intensity: The depth of the feeling, from a slight emotional tug to overflowing tears.
  • Frequency: The ease with which grateful feelings are elicited.
  • Span: The number of different things for which a person can be grateful for at the same time.
  • Density: The number of different people for which a person can be grateful for a single positive outcome.

For those with a highly grateful personality, the intensity of their grateful feelings has the highest correlation with well-being. For everyone else, the frequency of their grateful feelings is the most important for impacting well-being.

What Causes Gratitude?

A wide range of well-being measures are correlated with gratitude. The relationship works both ways – those with a more grateful personality are better able to find satisfaction in life, but those who are already happy for other reasons will tend to see the world through a  rose-tinted perspective, where there are many things to be grateful for.

In order, the personality traits with the largest correlations with gratitude are: agreeableness, spirituality, and conscientiousness.

On the other hand, materialism is negatively correlated with gratitude – the more wealthy one is or aspires to become, the more their materialism grows. This is turn causes a reduction in their gratitude and ability to savor. This is part of why wealth increases happiness, but only slightly so.

Different countries have different perspectives towards gratitude – in America, only 20% of adults view gratitude as a constructive and useful emotion. Compared to Europe’s 50%, it should be no surprise that they report being three times more likely to regularly experience the emotion of gratitude. Only one out of every ten American reports regularly feeling gratitude.

Previous post:

Next post: