“Feeling Gratitude Is Associated with Better Well-Being Across the Life Span: A Daily Diary Study During the COVID-19 Outbreak”

Da Jiang, Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, December 2020

“Numerous studies have shown that gratitude can improve the mental health of people facing stressful events. However, most studies in this area have been based on laboratory experiments and retrospective surveys, rather than actual situations in which people are experiencing stress.”

“This study attempted to fill these gaps by examining the benefits of feeling gratitude every day during the COVID-19 outbreak. … These findings demonstrate the benefits of gratitude in a naturalistic situation that induced stress and anxiety.”

Our read: These researchers studied the simple power of gratitude to improve individuals’ well-being during a global pandemic. In response to a number of other studies showing the value of keeping a “gratitude journal” during traumatic seasons of life, each participant was asked to track daily levels of gratitude in a diary. For Christians, the spiritual benefits of writing down our prayers of thanksgiving to God, especially in hard times, should be self-evident!

“Give Thanks in All Circumstances? Gratitude Toward God and Health in Later Life After Major Life Stressors”

Laura Upenieks and Joanne Ford-Robertson, Research on Aging, August 2021

“Gratitude is foundational to well-being throughout the life course, and an emerging body of work suggests that older adults may be more inclined to attribute gratitude to a non-human target (God).”

“Results suggest that gratitude toward God tends to predict better age-comparative and global self-rated physical health in the aftermath of stress, a moderation effect which is partially mediated by stronger beliefs in God-mediated control (that God is a collaborative partner in dealing with problems). We conclude by proposing some interventions for clinicians and counselors centered around gratitude and religiosity that may assist older adults in coping with major life stressors.”

Our read: This fascinating study examined whether gratitude toward God in aging adults could lessen the negative health effects of common stressful events, such as personal illness or a loved one’s death. And of course, the researchers found that it did! This certainly makes a good case for Christian professionals and ministries to incorporate gratitude in their practices.

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“How Gratitude Can Help Combat Climate Change”

Andrew Serazin and Robert A. Emmons, Time, November 12, 2021

“Insomuch as gratitude implies living in celebration, the healing of disconnection, and preserving and protecting what we most treasure, according to philosopher Nathan Wood, it has a unique advantage as a human virtue in that it can function both as ‘an attitude of thankfulness in response to a benefit received’ and in a non-instrumental sense as ‘an active appreciation that something is the way it is.’

“Most importantly, gratitude is an action word. It is not passive. Grateful people are ‘trustees,’ caretakers of that which has been entrusted to them. Ingratitude, conversely, is a failure to preserve and protect the gifts that one has received or has been entrusted with. … People who experience environmental gratitude are morally concerned and intrinsically motivated to act responsibly.”

Our read: Robert Emmons is the most well-respected scholar specializing in the study of gratitude, and he’s also a committed Christian. This article offers a great deal of food for thought, whatever your ecological opinions. It's fascinating to consider the correlation between our gratitude to God and our posture toward the natural world he created and called us to cultivate. That connection reaffirms the biblical mandate of stewarding the earth, rather than treating it as a proprietary tool to serve our own interests.

“The Concept of Gratitude in Philosophy and Psychology: An Update”

Liz Gulliford and Blaire Morgan, Journal for Ethics and Moral Philosophy, April 2021

“We have been able to examine claims about the nature of gratitude, such as whether it requires supererogation, whether benefactors’ intentions rule out gratitude (they do not), and whether gratitude is a quintessentially positive and unalloyed good, as many have supposed.”

“We align with those who argue that gratitude must be taught in a way which foregrounds its status as a virtue (Navarro & Tudge, 2020), which needs to be cultivated with an awareness of its relation to other moral principles and virtues with which it may even conflict (Jackson, 2016). This approach is necessary if we are to see beyond advocating gratitude instrumentally for its beneficial effects, which risks losing sight of moral reasons for cultivating this valued human strength.”

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Our read: In this follow-up to a 2013 study, the authors survey contemporary research on gratitude and also review recent changes and areas of growth in their burgeoning field of study. What I like most: They discuss the importance of cultivating gratitude as a virtue, whether or not it serves us. That claim confronts some corners of secular psychology, which promote virtues like gratitude as good, but only to the degree that they perform a positive function in our lives—as in, only if they make us feel “happy.”

“The Virtue of Gratitude”

Peter Hill, Center for Pastor Theologians, November 2020

“How has the Christian faith and its virtue tradition influenced the science of positive psychology and virtue research? Many social scientists acknowledge that virtue reaches its full expression when embedded in a tradition, such as the Christian tradition.”

“Gratitude, for instance, involves the realization that the good that comes to us in our lives often comes from a source outside of ourselves, which Christians often associate with God. We discuss these and other questions, including how pastors and Christians can cultivate the virtue of gratitude.”

Our read: In this podcast episode, Peter Hill, professor of psychology at Biola and one of the foremost scholars on the subject of Christian virtue, explains how Christians have earned a sizable seat at the table in the field of positive psychology and how they’ve grounded the study of gratitude in God. For believers, locating gratitude inside a faith framework makes the practice of giving thanks far more resilient than it would if we leaned only on the fickleness of human nature.

“Gratitude to God: Psychological, Philosophical and Theological Investigations”

Biola University and the John Templeton Foundation, “Gratitude to God

“To date we have completed five studies on gratitude to God (GTG). … In these studies, we also showed that GTG prospectively predicted spiritual well-being, general gratitude, and confidence in the existence of God. The model that emerged out of these studies was that GTG prospectively led to generalized gratitude, which in turn enhanced subjective well-being. We are sanguine that this research program will help jumpstart the empirical science of GTG and provide the foundation for future investigations into the nature, causes, and consequences of theistic gratitude.”

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Our read: It’s exciting to see divine gratitude explored as a topic of serious academic inquiry—and even more exciting that Christian academics are leading the charge. In fact, “gratitude to God” is now the subject of a nearly $4 million John Templeton Foundation grant, awarded through Biola, that will fund a number of intriguing research proposals to be published next year. The venture is led by top Christian scholars of gratitude, including Peter Hill, Robert Emmons, Robert C. Roberts, and Miroslav Volf.

“The current scientific literature on gratitude toward God is severely limited,” noted the research team, given that “across theistic traditions, God is viewed as the source of all good, and this realization highlights the priority of divine goodness over every other created good.”