Gratitude Scrapbook 2: Snippets from lectures

Here are some thoughts about gratitude harvested from my lecture notes and the power point slides for lectures given during the Master of Applied Positive Psychology Program.

Ed Diener:
People’s genetically-based temperament substantially influences their happiness.Conditions matter most in the short run; after that people adapt back toward their baselines (set-points). Thus temperament and personality usually have a larger influence on Happiness than objective circumstances.

Fujita & Diener (2005): Most people, 80 percent, relatively stable life satisfaction over 17 years. But about some can change their “set-point”. (See paper for exact numbers. )

What Can Change the Set-Point?

  • Meeting basic biological needs
  • Social relationships, or lack of them
  • Self-respect; self-efficacy
  • Cognition: Mental habits of trust, gratitude, optimism, and seeing the glass half-full

Barbara Fredrickson analyzed 7 positive emotions (Joy, Interest, Contentment, Pride, Gratitude, Elevation, Love) according to context, tendency, and outcome. In general, positive emotions tend to broaden behavioral repertoires, attention, and thinking. Here’s what she shows for Gratitude:

CONTEXT: receive altruistic gift
TENDENCY: creative giving
OUTCOME: social bonds, skills for loving

Jon Haidt reminded us of Thomas Jefferson’s contributions to thinking about Gratitude:

When any …act of charity or of gratitude, for instance, is presented either to our sight or imagination, we are deeply impressed with its beauty and feel a strong desire in ourselves of doing charitable and grateful acts also. On the contrary when we see or read of any atrocious deed, we are disgusted with its deformity and conceive an abhorrence of vice…..
And whether the fidelity of Nelson, and generosity of Blandford in Marmontel do not dilate his breast, and elevate his sentiments as much as any similar incident which real history can furnish?…..

–Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Robert Skipwith, 1771

Haidt explains that Jefferson’s passage illustrates the sequence {perception of moral beauty → feeling uplifted and elevated → physical feeling → Action tendency}, which he then illustrates it with this student passage:

Watching my grandmother aid this helpless, suffering woman near the days of her death, caused me to feel a sense of responsibility to those around me. I began to feel more appreciative for my well-being and the fact that I was healthy. I felt the desire to be like my grandma, and have the same goodwill and huge heart — I wanted to help!

Sonja Lyubomirsky:Gratitude: A felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life

  • Fosters savoring of positive life circumstances
  • Inhibits social comparison
  • Facilitates coping with stressful life events
  • Counters negative emotions
  • Stimulates moral behavior
  • Builds social bonds
  • Counteracts hedonic adaptation

Lyubomirsky, Tkach, and Sheldon 2004) conducted a study with students where participants counted blessings, i.e.,g kept gratitude journals for 6 weeks. This was based on work by Emmons & McCullough (2003) showing that practicing grateful thinking regularly can make people feel happier. The study groups keeping gratitude journals did show higher levels of satisfaction on a number of measures than the control groups, thought the difference was significant only for the group that wrote once a week, not the one that wrote 3 times a week. Perhaps for students, there was too much writing involved in the 3 times per week practice.

She closes with the following quotation:

Happiness depends upon ourselves.
– Aristotle


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