Impact of gratitude on resource development and emotional well-being

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Author: Chih-Che Lin
Date: Apr. 2015
Publisher: Scientific Journal Publishers, Ltd.
Document Type: Report
Length: 3,949 words
Lexile Measure: 1470L

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Abstract: 

Using the broaden-and-build theory, I examined whether or not gratitude can build social, cognitive, physical, and psychological resources, and whether or not gratitude induces other positive emotions that trigger upward spirals toward emotional well-being. I recruited participants (N = 375 undergraduates) to complete measures of the variables of interest. The results indicated that higher levels of gratitude significantly predicted increases in social support, adaptive coping abilities, and beneficial psychological outcomes (e.g., life satisfaction), as well as decreases in avoidant coping style and detrimental physical outcomes (e.g., negative emotions). Further, I found that gratitude could induce other positive emotions which partially mediated the effects of gratitude on emotional well-being. These findings provide empirical support for the idea that gratitude is, in essence, a positive emotion beneficial for positive functioning, as well as broadening and building other positive emotions, which, in turn, result in an increase in emotional well-being.

Keywords: gratitude, resource development, emotional well-being, positive emotion, broadenand-build theory.

Full Text: 

Although experiences and expressions of gratitude have been regarded as fundamental aspects of human life, until the development of positive psychology these received little research attention (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). Gratitude is considered as both a trait and a state. State gratitude is understood as a positive, social, and moral emotion experienced when an unsolicited act of kindness is freely given by another person (McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang, 2002) and trait gratitude can be described as an individual's predisposition to experience the state of gratitude (Chan, 2010). To examine the role of a positive emotion, such as state gratitude, the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions is useful. In this theory, momentary thought-action repertoires are broadened and the array of thoughts that come to mind is widened (Fredrickson, 1998, 2001). Fredrickson has suggested that gratitude may operate in such a fashion and argued that such broadening emotions build enduring personal resources, such as social bonds, coping abilities, physical health, and emotional well-being. Moreover, there is evidence that gratitude enhances other positive emotions (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). In line with this, I proposed that gratitude itself, as a positive emotion, would broaden and build other positive emotions and further improve and strengthen positive functioning.

Gratitude and Personal Resources

The broadened thinking and actions that accompany positive emotions, such as gratitude, allow an individual to obtain social, cognitive, physical, and psychological resources that can be drawn on in times of need (Fredrickson, 1998, 2001). First, positive emotions have been found to increase affiliation with others, as well as the quality of social interactions (Waugh & Fredrickson, 2006). People with a more positive mood are likely to participate in more activities to strengthen their relationships with others, compared to those with a less positive mood. Thus, gratitude, as a positive emotion, may help the individual to build friendships and other social bonds, and lead to more perceived social support. Second, positive emotions could increase creative and efficient cognitive processes and enable flexible and creative thinking to cope with stress and adversity (Lyubomirsky, Boehm, Kasri, & Zehm, 2011). Thus, gratitude, as a positive emotion, may induce positive and adaptive coping strategies, to overcome challenges in life. Third, positive emotions also have a restorative effect that may be beneficial for survival by undoing the physiological effects of negative emotions (Fredrickson, Mancuso, Branigan, & Tugade, 2000). The undoing hypothesis was proposed by Lyubomirsky, King, and Diener (2005) to explain the strong association between health and longevity. Thus, gratitude, as a positive emotion, may decrease experiences of negative emotions and improve physical health. Finally, positive emotions have been found to build psychological resources, assisting with successful coping with negative events and increasing life satisfaction (Cohn, Fredrickson, Brown, Mikels, & Conway, 2009). Thus, gratitude, as a positive emotion, may increase emotional well-being, such as satisfaction with life, and improve psychological functioning.

Gratitude, Positive Emotions, and Life Satisfaction

Scholars have shown that gratitude is a robust predictor of life satisfaction (for a review, see Wood, Froh, & Geraghty, 2010), but the mechanism potentially involved in this relationship are unclear. In the positive affect hypothesis of gratitude, it is asserted that the habitual experience of positive emotions protects against a variety of mental disorders (Watson & Naragon-Gainey, 2010). As a positive experience in itself, gratitude may change the balance of experiences from negative to positive, leading to increased life satisfaction. Moreover, gratitude may promote cognitive amplification of positive affect by enhancing perceptions of positive experiences. Grateful people tend to experience positive emotions, such as contentment, happiness, and hope, more frequently than do ungrateful people (Emmons & McCullough, 2003; McCullough et al., 2002). This suggests that gratitude may induce and enhance other positive emotions, which, in turn, enhance and promote life satisfaction.

The Present Study

My first purpose in this study was to examine simultaneously the effect of gratitude on all four major outcomes (i.e., social, cognitive, physical, and psychological resources) of the broaden-and-build model. To my knowledge, this topic has not yet been investigated. If it can be shown that this relationship exists, then it can be stated with greater confidence that gratitude itself is a positive emotion in essence. My second purpose was to examine whether or not positive emotions mediate the association between gratitude and life satisfaction, based on assertions that gratitude may induce other positive emotions that trigger upward spirals toward emotional well-being. Understanding the mechanisms by which gratitude affects one's emotional well-being has the practical value of helping individuals to achieve satisfying lives.

Method

Participants

The participants were 375 (men = 131, women = 244) undergraduates who were students at nine universities in Taiwan. Of these, 53.3% were at private universities, and 46.7% were at public universities. Participants had a mean age of 20.30 years (SD = 1.04).

Measures

Gratitude. I used the Chinese version of the Gratitude Questionnaire (Chen, Chen, Kee, & Tsai, 2009) to measure participants' level of gratitude. The scale consists of five items to measure a single factor and has been found through confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) and cross-validation to have good reliability ([alpha] = .80) and construct validity. The items are rated on a 6-point Likert scale, with response options ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree).

Coping style. I employed the Inventory of Coping Style (Lin & Yeh, 2014) to measure participants' type of coping style. The scale contains 24 items to measure the following four factors: problem-focused active coping, problem-focused passive coping, emotion-focused active coping, and problem-focused passive coping. It has been found through CFA to have good reliability ([alpha] = .79-84) and construct validity. The items are rated on a 6-point Likert scale, with response options ranging from 1 (never) to 6 (always).

Social support. I employed the Inventory of Social Support (Lin & Yeh, 2014) to measure participants' perceived level of social support. The scale has 18 items to measure the following two factors: emotional-companion support and informational-tangible support. It has been found through CFA to have good reliability (a = .95 and .86) and construct validity. The items are rated on a 6-point Likert scale, with response options ranging from 1 (never) to 6 (always).

Negative emotions. I employed the Inventory of Negative Emotions (Lin & Yeh, 2014) to measure participants' negative emotional states in relation to how they generally feel. The scale includes 14 items to measure the following three factors: worry, shame, and anger. It has been found through CFA to have good reliability ([alpha] = .77-.87) and construct validity. The items are rated on a 6-point Likert scale, with response options ranging from 1 (never) to 6 (always).

Life satisfaction. I employed the Satisfaction with Life Scale (Diener, Emmons, Larson, & Griffin, 1985) to measure participants' global assessments of how satisfied they were with their lives. The scale consists of five items to measure a single factor and has shown good test-retest stability (ranging from .82 over 2 months to .54 over 4 years), and acceptable convergent and divergent validity with numerous other measures of well-being (Pavot & Diener, 1993). The items are rated on a 6-point Likert scale, with response options ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree).

Positive emotions. I employed the Inventory of Positive Emotions (Lin & Yeh, 2014) to measure participants' positive emotional states in relation to how they generally feel. The scale consists of five items to measure a single factor and has been found through CFA to have good reliability ([alpha] = .90) and construct validity. The items are rated on a 6-point Likert scale, with response options ranging from 1 (never) to 6 (always).

Procedure and Data Analyses

All inventories in this study were administered in university classes by the professor who was teaching the course. No time limit was imposed; however, all participants completed the inventories within 25 minutes. All data were collected during a one-month period.

I performed one-way multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) and one-way univariate analysis of variance (ANOVA) of the effects of gratitude on social support, coping styles, negative emotions, and life satisfaction. Cut-off points of the upper 27% and lower 27% were used to divide the participants into high, medium, and low groups for variance analysis. In addition, structural equation models (SEM) were used to explore the relationships among gratitude, positive emotions, and life satisfaction, and to examine further the mediation effects of positive emotions based on the guidelines provided by Baron and Kenny (1986).

Results

Effects of Gratitude on Social Support, Coping Styles, Negative Emotions, and Life Satisfaction

First, results of a one-way MANOVA indicated that gratitude had a significant effect on social support, Wilks' A = .759, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2.sub.p] = .129. The subsequent ANOVA revealed that gratitude had significant effects on emotional-companion support, F(2, 372) = 55.41, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2.sub.p] = .230, and on informational-tangible support, F(2, 372) = 52.83, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2.sub.p] = .221. Scheffe post hoc tests indicated that participants with high levels of gratitude had better informational-tangible support and emotional-companion support than did those with medium or low levels of gratitude. Moreover, participants with medium levels of gratitude had better informational-tangible support and emotional-companion support than did those with low levels of gratitude. Accordingly, the higher the level of gratitude participants had, the better their perceived social support (see Table 1).

Second, results of a one-way MANOVA indicated that gratitude had a significant effect on coping style, Wilks' A = .680, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2.sub.p] = .175. The subsequent ANOVA revealed that gratitude had significant effects on problem-focused active coping, F(2, 372) = 47.96, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2.sub.p] = .205; on emotion-focused active coping, F(2, 372) = 48.54, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2.sub.p] = .207; on problem-focused passive coping, F(2, 372) = 3.83, p = .023, [[eta].sup.2.sub.p] = .020, and on emotion-focused passive coping, F(2, 372) = 24.07, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2.sub.p] = .115. Scheffe post hoc tests revealed that participants with high levels of gratitude tended to employ more problem-focused active coping and emotion-focused active coping strategies than did those who had medium or low levels of gratitude. Moreover, participants who had medium levels of gratitude tended to employ more problem-focused active coping and emotion-focused active coping strategies than did those who had low levels of gratitude. In addition, participants with low and medium levels of gratitude tended to employ more problem-focused passive coping and emotion-focused passive coping strategies than did those with high levels of gratitude (see Table 1).

Third, results of a one-way MANOVA indicated that gratitude had a significant effect on negative emotions, Wilks' A = .925, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2.sub.p] = .038. The subsequent ANOVA revealed that gratitude had significant effects on shame, F(2, 372) = 7.16, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2.sub.p] = .037, and on anger, F(2, 372) = 8.38, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2.sub.p] = .043. No significant effects of gratitude on worry were observed, F(2, 372) = .248, p = .780, [[eta].sup.2.sub.p] = .001. Scheffe post hoc tests revealed that participants with low levels of gratitude tended to experience more negative emotions of shame and anger than did those who had medium or high levels of gratitude. Accordingly, the higher the level of gratitude participants had, the fewer negative emotions they experienced (see Table 1).

Finally, results of a one-way ANOVA revealed that gratitude had significant effects on life satisfaction, F(2, 372) = 28.25, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2.sub.p] = .132. Scheffe post hoc tests indicated that participants with high levels of gratitude had better life satisfaction than did those with medium or low levels of gratitude. Moreover, participants with medium levels of gratitude had better life satisfaction than did those with low levels of gratitude (see Table 1).

Positive Emotions Mediate the Effect of Gratitude on Life Satisfaction

Three SEMs were performed to address whether or not positive emotions mediate the association between gratitude and life satisfaction. I used path analyses to test the following three models: Model A, whereby gratitude predicts life satisfaction and positive emotions (a direct model), Model B, whereby positive emotions mediate the relationship between gratitude and life satisfaction (a mediational model), and Model C, which is similar to Model B but the direct path between gratitude and life satisfaction is omitted. The fit indices for each model are displayed in Table 2. Each model achieved an acceptable fit to the data, as indicated by the root mean square error of approximation, goodness-of-fit index, comparative fit index, and normed fit index (Joreskog & Sorbom, 1993).

As shown in Figure 1, gratitude was positively associated with life satisfaction and positive emotion in Model A (the direct model), providing support for Baron and Kenny's (1986) proposed mediation effects. In Model B (the mediational model), positive emotions were positively associated with life satisfaction, and the relationship between gratitude and life satisfaction was lower than in the direct model and still significant. Sobel tests indicated that including positive emotions in the model significantly reduced the association between gratitude and life satisfaction (z = 5.59, p < .001), providing support for Baron and Kenny's proposed mediation effects by indicating that positive emotion partially mediates this association. Finally, we tested Model C (not pictured), in which the direct path between gratitude and life satisfaction was omitted. Although Model C achieved an acceptable fit (see Table 2), a chi-square difference test indicated that Model B had a better fit to the data than did Model C, [DELTA][chi square](1) = 21.18, p < .001. Thus, with respect to the guidelines provided by Baron and Kenny (1986) for the investigation of mediation effects, these findings indicate that positive emotion partially mediates the association between gratitude and life satisfaction.

Discussion

The Influence of Gratitude on Social Support, Coping Styles, Negative Emotions, and Life Satisfaction

Regarding the relationship between gratitude and social support, I found that, compared with those who are less grateful, more grateful people had better emotional-companion and informational-tangible sources of social support. This is in line with previous findings that, over time, gratitude leads to a higher level of social support (Wood, Maltby, Gillett, Linley, & Joseph, 2008). The underlying mechanisms of such a positive relationship may be the feelings of being loved, cared for, and valued, as well as prosocial behaviors, which further strengthen self-esteem and perceived social support. Additionally, in analyzing the relationship between gratitude and coping style, in this study I found that grateful people tended to utilize more problem-focused active coping and emotion-focused active coping than did those who were less grateful. In contrast, less grateful people were inclined to employ more problem-focused passive coping and emotion-focused passive coping compared to those who were more grateful. These results are in line with previous findings that grateful people tend to use more positive coping strategies, rather than coping strategies of avoidance, and that gratitude is an effective coping mechanism for dealing with stressful events (Wood, Joseph, & Linley, 2007). Grateful people are inclined to focus on the positive aspects of life and this may lead to an increased willingness to deal actively with problems.

With regard to the relationship between gratitude and negative emotions, I found that those who were more grateful tended to experience shame and anger less often than did less grateful people. These results are in line with previous findings that grateful people tend to experience fewer negative emotions (Emmons & McCullough, 2003; McCullough et al., 2002). Positive emotions have a restorative effect that may counteract the physiological effects of negative emotions. With regard to the relationship between gratitude and life satisfaction, I found that more grateful people had a higher level of life satisfaction than did less grateful people. This lends support to previous findings that gratitude is related to higher levels of satisfaction with life and has a causative influence on life satisfaction (Chan, 2010).

Above all, in this study I not only provided further empirical evidence to support the assumption that gratitude may conceptually fit the broaden-and-build model (Fredrickson, 1998, 2001), but also demonstrated that high levels of gratitude enhance not just one domain identified in the model, but multiple domains simultaneously.

The Influence of Gratitude on Life Satisfaction via Positive Emotions

In line with my expectations, the specific indirect effect of gratitude on life satisfaction via positive emotions was significant. That is, people with higher levels of gratitude tended to experience more positive emotions, which, in turn, resulted in an increase in their life satisfaction. This upward spiral of positive emotions and outcomes allows an individual to flourish (Fredrickson, 1998, 2001; Fredrickson & Joiner, 2002), and is consistent with the previously reported mediating model of affect (Toussaint & Friedman, 2009). Moreover, gratitude has an indirect impact on life satisfaction through the mediator of positive emotions, and also influences life satisfaction directly. This suggests that gratitude exerts effects above and beyond simple affective valence. That is, gratitude may be related to the general benefit associated with positive affect (Watson & Naragon-Gainey, 2010), but the relationships among gratitude and other variables (e.g., life satisfaction) are not simply attributable to affective valence. Thus, future researchers could explore possible cognitive mechanisms (e.g., accessible positive memories; Wood et al., 2010).

Limitations and Directions for Future Research

Some limitations to this study should be addressed. First, data were collected using self-report measures, which may have artificially inflated the findings because of shared reporter variance. To address this, future researchers could use a diverse set of methodologies and outcome measures to lower the influence of subjectivity. Second, use of a cross-sectional design means that causal relationships cannot be determined, and interpretation of the results of the mediation analysis must proceed with caution. Longitudinal and experimental studies would provide additional insights in the future.

Conclusion

The results in this study provide further support for the idea that gratitude in essence ought to be regarded as a positive emotion that is associated with social, cognitive, physical, and psychological resources (Wood et al., 2010). Moreover, the results also showed that the relationship between gratitude and life satisfaction best fits a mediational model. These findings add to existing theories on the subject in that in the study the mechanisms have been described by which gratitude is related to positive functioning. The findings suggest that gratitude influences emotional well-being both directly and indirectly through the positive emotions that are induced by gratitude.

Overall, the results obtained in this study have important implications in two areas. First, gratitude is consistent with the evolutionary benefits of positive emotions proposed by Fredrickson (1998, 2001). Second, these results have practical implications for daily life. Experiences of gratitude are advantageous in several key areas of life (Fredrickson & Joiner, 2002), and also induce an upward spiral that increases life satisfaction and emotional well-being. There is growing interest in positive psychological interventions for the enhancement of human well-being, and gratitude may have an important place in the positive psychologist's repertoire of well-being-enhancing techniques and exercises. The cultivation of gratitude can function as a preventative technique to help individuals enhance their well-being in the future.

http://dx.doi.org/10.2224/sbp.2015.43.3.493

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CHIH-CHE LIN

Ming Chuan University

Chih-Che Lin, Teacher Education Center, Ming Chuan University.

This work was supported by the Ministry of Science and Technology of the Republic of China in Taiwan (Contract MOST 103-2410-H-130-031).

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Chih-Che Lin, Teacher Education Center, Ming Chuan University, 5 De Ming Rd., Gui Shan District, Taoyuan County 333, Taiwan, ROC. Email: chihche@mail.mcu.edu.tw


Table 1. Mean Levels and Post Hoc Tests of Variations in Social
Support, Coping Styles, Negative Emotions, and Life Satisfaction by
Gratitude Level

Source        Descriptive       Scheffe

           M      SD     N

Emotional-companion support

L        43.81   8.86   98       H > M
M        50.07   6.62   163      H > L
H        54.76   7.60   114      M > L

Problem-focused active coping

L        31.34   5.04   98       H > M
M        34.56   4.76   163      H > L
H        37.80   4.61   114      M > L

Problem-focused passive coping

L        18.31   3.85   98    L > H M > H
M        18.21   3.58   163
H        17.10   3.76   114

Worry

L        14.71   3.86   98
M        14.42   3.42   163       ns
H        14.38   4.21   114

Anger

L        18.42   5.60   98       L > H
M        16.34   4.12   163      L > M
H        15.82   5.25   114

Source        Descriptive     Scheffe

           M      SD     N

Informational-tangible support

L        28.07   5.27   98       H > M
M        32.08   4.45   163      H > L
H        34.70   4.54   114      M > L

Emotion-focused active coping

L        22.54   4.14   98       H > M
M        26.31   3.87   163      H > L
H        27.99   4.36   114      M > L

Emotion-focused passive coping

L        15.71   4.03   98    L > H M > L
M        14.32   3.39   163
H        12.23   3.86   114

Shame

L        11.85   3.93   98    L > H L > M
M        10.92   3.23   163
H        9.99    3.70   114

Life satisfaction

L        16.87   4.76   98       H > M
M        19.65   3.75   163      H > L
H        21.22   4.52   114      M > L

Note. N = 375. L = Low gratitude; M = Medium gratitude; H = High
gratitude.

Table 2. Fit Indices for the Three Models

Model   [chi square]   df     [chi       RMSEA   GFI   CFI   NFI
                            square]/df

A         368.47 *     88      4.19       .09    .88   .96   .95
B         328.13 *     87      3.77       .08    .90   .97   .96
C         349.31 *     88      3.97       .09    .89   .97   .96

Note. Model A = direct effect model, Model B = mediated model, Model
C = mediated model with the direct path between gratitude and
satisfaction with life omitted, RMSEA = root mean square error of
approximation, GFI = goodness-of-fit index, CFI = comparative fit
index, NFI = normed fit index.

N = 375, * p < .001

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A419268192