Give thanks — it’s good for you

Thanksgiving is one day set aside for giving thanks, but researchers are finding that a daily dose of gratitude promotes health, happiness and social relationships. It’s getting increasing attention from psychologists, especially those within the growing movement known as positive psychology, which studies well-being. Grateful people, they say, are optimistic and energetic and deal better with stress and illness. While gratitude is a relatively new subject for researchers, it’s a foundational part of all the world’s religions. Sacred scriptures teach gratitude, and religious prayers of thanksgiving reinforce an attitude of appreciation for what one is given. Why do all the world’s religions emphasize giving thanks? What are the spiritual benefits of giving thanks? The physical benefits? Can a practice of giving thanks divorced from religious faith also have benefits? Why should we give thanks at this time of year and beyond?

Background

News stories and features:

Books:

Research and studies:

Gratitude organizations, centers and groups

  • 365Grateful.com is a website that collects stories from people about the power of gratitude in their lives.
  • The Emmons Lab at the University of California, Davis, studies gratitude. Researchers are engaged in long-term and ongoing research into the nature of gratitude.
  • The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, studies the benefits of gratitude in its Expanding Gratitude Program, which promotes the study of gratitude and keeps tabs on gratitude research.
  • A Network for Grateful Living describes itself as a worldwide community “dedicated to gratefulness as the core inspiration for personal change, international cooperation, and sustainable activism in areas of universal concern.”
  • Gratitude Radio is an online music radio station that describes itself as “designed to help those who desire to stay in an Attitude of Gratitude.” It maintains a list of contributors.

National sources

Psychologists and other researchers

  • David DeSteno

    David DeSteno, a psychology professor at Northeastern University in Boston, specializes in the study of human emotions. He is working on a National Science Foundation-funded study of gratitude, trust and risk.

  • Frans B.M. deWaal

    Frans B.M. deWaal is the C.H. Candler Professor of Primate Behavior at Emory University, and he directs the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta. His renowned research with primates has looked at the evolution of human emotions and morals, and he has studied whether apes can feel sympathy. He has studied how nonhuman primates reconcile after fights. He says it is easy to spot gratitude among apes.

  • Robert Emmons

    Robert Emmons is a psychology professor at the University of California-Davis and director of the Emmons Lab. One of his primary interests is the psychology of gratitude and how gratitude relates to human flourishing. His books include Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity.

  • Barbara L. Fredrickson

    Barbara L. Fredrickson is a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where she is director of the PEP (Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology) Lab. A specialist in positive emotions, she won the first John Marks Templeton Positive Psychology Prize for original research. She contributed a chapter on how gratitude benefits human development to The Psychology of Gratitude.

  • Jeffrey Froh

    Jeffrey Froh is an associate professor of psychology and a school psychologist at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. He researches gratitude in young people and is a co-author of Making Grateful Kids: A Scientific Approach for Helping Youth Thrive.

  • Todd Kashdan

    Todd Kashdan is a professor of clinical psychology at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., where he directs the Laboratory for the Study of Social Anxiety, Character Strengths and Related Phenomena. He has researched the relationship between gratitude and well-being among Vietnam War veterans.

  • Sonja Lyubomirsky

    Sonja Lyubomirsky is a professor of psychology at University of California, Riverside. She studies human happiness. She has researched the effects of “counting one’s blessings” as a way of enhancing happiness.

  • Dan P. McAdams

    Dan P. McAdams is a professor of psychology and director of the Foley Center for the Study of Lives at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. McAdams’ research examines how people develop their identities, and he has studied “generativity,” adults’ concern for the next generation. His book The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By, which finds personal redemption a major theme in the lives of highly generative people, won several awards. He can speak about the role of gratitude in personality development.

  • Martin Seligman

    Martin Seligman is one of the principal exponents of contemporary positive psychology. He is director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he is also a professor of psychology. He is familiar with psychological research on positive traits and virtues and can speak about gratitude research.

  • Jo-Ann Tsang

    Jo-Ann Tsang is an associate professor in the department of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She has researched gratitude extensively.

Religious/ spiritual

Christian

  • Peter C. Bouteneff

    Peter C. Bouteneff is a professor of systematic theology at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y. He is interested in popular culture and has worked for the World Council of Churches. He wrote the article “All Creation in United Thanksgiving: Gregory of Nyssa and the Wesleys on Salvation” in the book Orthodox and Wesleyan Spirituality.

  • Barbara J. McClure

    Barbara J. McClure is an associate professor of pastoral theology at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas. Her interests include human flourishing and spiritual formation, and she has worked as a pastoral counselor. She can speak to the idea of gratitude and human flourishing.

  • Robert C. Roberts

    Robert C. Roberts is a professor of ethics at Baylor University. He specializes in virtues and emotions and wrote the entry on gratitude in New Dictionary of Christian Ethics & Pastoral Theology.

  • Lamin Sanneh

    Lamin Sanneh is the D. Willis James Professor of Missions and World Christianity at Yale University. He wrote the entry “Gratitude and Ingratitude” in the Encyclopaedia of the Qur’ān.

  • David Steindl-Rast

    David Steindl-Rast is a Benedictine brother and a senior member of the Benedictine community at Mount Savior in Elmira, N.Y. He is the author or co-author of five books, including Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer: An Approach to Life in Fullness. He is a member of A Network for Grateful Living, which maintains the Web site Gratefulness.org. He can be contacted through the website.

Buddhism and Hinduism

Spiritual

Other

  • M.J. Ryan

    M.J. Ryan is a consultant and author whose books include Attitudes of Gratitude: How to Give and Receive Joy Every Day of Your Life and A Grateful Heart.

Regional sources

In the Northeast

In the South

  • Edward J. Harpham

    Edward J. Harpham is a professor of political science at the University of Texas at Dallas. As a political theorist, he focuses on the role of philosophical ideas in the liberal political tradition and in American government. He has written about gratitude within the history of ideas and in the work of the political economist Adam Smith.

  • David Patterson

    David Patterson is a professor of Holocaust studies at the University of Texas at Dallas. He is an expert on the Holocaust and serves as an adviser to two U.S. Holocaust museums. His book Hebrew Language and Jewish Thought looks at the role of gratitude in Jewish thought.

  • Edward C. Vacek

    The Rev. Edward C. Vacek holds the Stephen J. Duffy Chair in Catholic Studies at Loyola University New Orleans. He wrote Love, Human and Divine. He has written about gratitude and love.

In the Midwest

  • Jack Bauer

    Jack Bauer is a psychology professor at the University of Dayton in Ohio. He researches personal growth and self-identity. He can speak about the role that gratitude plays in determining personal well-being.

    Contact: 937-229-2617.
  • Stephen C. Berkwitz

    Stephen C. Berkwitz wrote “History and Gratitude in Theravada Buddhism,” which appeared in the September 2003 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion. He heads the department of religious studies at Missouri State University in Springfield.

  • Jay Marshall

    Jay Marshall wrote Thanking and Blessing: The Sacred Art. He is dean of the Earlham School of Religion in Richmond, Ind., and a Quaker minister.

In the West

  • Joan Borysenko

    Joan Borysenko of Colorado is an author and Harvard-trained medical scientist who specializes in mind-body topics. She has written about gratitude.

    Contact: 303-440-8460.
  • Kelly McGonigal

    Kelly McGonigal is a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University in California. She is also a yoga teacher and has written about yoga and gratitude.

  • Philip Watkins

    Philip Watkins teaches psychology at Eastern Washington University in Cheney. He specializes in gratitude and has researched its relationship to spirituality.

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