What is Gratitude?

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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.

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