Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier / Edition 1

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Overview

The first major study of gratitude that shows how “wanting what we have” can measurably change people’s lives.

Did you know that there is a crucial component of happiness that is often overlooked? Robert Emmons—editor-in-chief of the Journal of Positive Psychology—examines what it means to think and feel gratefully in Thanks! and invites readers to learn how to put this powerful emotion into practice. Scientifically speaking, regular grateful thinking can increase happiness by as much as 25 percent, while keeping a gratitude journal for as little as three weeks results in better sleep and more energy. But there's more than science to embrace here: Emmons also bolsters the case for gratitude by weaving in writings of philosophers, novelists, and theologians that illustrate all the benefits grateful living brings. 

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"We can all be grateful to Robert Emmons for this pioneering work."—David G. Myers, Ph.D., author of The Pursuit of Happiness

“Robert Emmons is the world’s leading expert on the psychology of gratitude. . . This is a morally elevating book.”—Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis

"I am convinced Robert Emmons is right: increasing the national state of gratitude would change the world."—Jim Clifton, Chairman & CEO of The Gallup Organization

"Emmons presents clear and practical ways in which everyone can begin to immensely improve their quality of life."—Dallas Willard, Professor of Philosophy at USC as well as author of Renovation of the Heart

"Gratitude’s benefits should be enough to convince even the most cynical secularist that this emotion is essential for achieving happiness."—Spirituality & Practice Magazine

"A serious, skillful exploration of a current arena of psychological research, by one of the leaders in that emerging field."—Steve Heilig The San Francisco Chronicle

Publishers Weekly

This fine, succinct contribution to the relatively new field of positive psychology (which seeks to promote emotional wellness, rather than treat disorder) focuses on what a French saying calls "the memory of the heart." Emmons (The Psychology of Gratitude), a leader in the field and professor at UC-Davis, looks at gratitude from an interdisciplinary perspective, including literature, psychology, religion and anthropology. He demonstrates how it contributes to emotional equanimity and pleasure, richer personal relationships and greater health. Perhaps Emmons's most interesting chapter is on ingratitude, which Kant called "the essence of vileness" and which Emmons sees as resulting from "the grudging resentment of one's own dependence" on others. "Gratitude is more... than a tool for self-improvement. Gratitude is a way of life," Emmons says, and he ends by offering 10 ways to cultivate gratitude, including keeping a gratitude journal and learning prayers on gratitude. Emmons introduces an important topic through deftly synthesizing scientific and popular inspirational literature. (Aug. 6)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Writing for general readers, Emmons (psychology, Univ. of California, Davis; editor in chief, Journal of Positive Psychology) summarizes the research he and others have conducted on the subject of gratitude and demonstrates how gratitude can be cultivated and become a significant feature of human happiness. In a series of journal-writing experiments, Emmons found that subjects who kept "gratitude diaries" listing things for which they were thankful turned out to be happier, more optimistic, and healthier compared with those asked to chronicle daily hassles or list life events without commentary-an effect reaffirmed by studies conducted months later. Emmons describes gratitude's role in mental and physical health and explores religious, theological, philosophical, cross-cultural, and historical perspectives. He further discusses obstacles such as indebtedness, psychological conflict, and entitlement; gives ten guidelines for grateful living, beginning with keeping a gratitude journal; and at several points throughout reflects on the impact that conducting gratitude research has had on his own life. This readable summary of research buffeted with inspirational stories and suggestions is recommended for popular psychology collections where the recent happiness books (e.g., Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness) were a hit.
—Lucille M. Boone

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618620197
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 8/6/2007
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

DR. ROBERT EMMONS is a professor at the University of California, Davis, and one of the leading scholars in the positive psychology movement. He is also editor-in-chief of the Journal of Positive Psychology. His work on gratitude has been featured in the Washington Post, the New Republic, Newsweek, and other mainstream media. Dr. Emmons has received multiple grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the John Templeton Foundation.

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Read an Excerpt

The New Science of Gratitude

I cannot tell you anything that, in a few minutes, will tell you how to be rich. But I can tell you how to feel rich, which is far better, let me tell you firsthand, than being rich. Be grateful . . . It’s the only totally reliable get-rich-quick scheme.
—Ben Stein, actor, comedian, economist

In 1999, the renowned writer Stephen King was the victimof a serious automobile accident.While King was walking on a country road not far from his summer home in rural Maine, the driver of a van, distracted by his rottweiler, veered off the road and struck King, throwing him over the van’s windshield and into a ditch. He just missed falling against a rocky ledge. King was hospitalized with multiple fractures to his right leg and hip, a collapsed lung, broken ribs, and a scalp laceration. When later asked what he was thinking when told he could have died, his one-word answer: “Gratitude.” An avowedly nonreligious individual in his personal life, he nonetheless on this occasion perceived the goodness of divine influence in the outcome. In discussing the issue of culpability for the accident, King said, “It’s God’s grace that he [the driver of the van] isn’t responsible for my death.” This brief glimpse into the private life of the most successful horror novelist of all time reveals that gratitude can occur in the most unlikely of circumstances. Specializing as he does in writing about the darker, more fearful side of life, the “King” of terror is an unlikely poster person for gratitude. Normally we associate gratitude with the more elevated, exalted realms of life. For centuries, theologians, moral philosophers, and writers have identified gratitude as an indispensable manifestation of virtue and excellence of character. One contemporary philosopher recently remarked that “gratitude is the most pleasant of virtues and the most virtuous of pleasures.” Despite such acclaim, gratitude has never, until recently, been examined or studied by scientific psychologists. It is possible that psychology has ignored gratitude because it appears, on the surface, to be a very obvious emotion, lacking in interesting complications: we receive a gift—from friends, from family, from God—and then we feel pleasurably grateful. But while the emotion seemed simplistic even to me as I began my research, I soon discovered that gratitude is a deeper, more complex phenomenon that plays a critical role in human happiness. Gratitude is literally one of the few things that can measurably change peoples’ lives.
It is perhaps inevitable that work rectifying such a glaring scientific omission would, like so many other breakthroughs, begin serendipitously. As a professor at the University of California, Davis, in the 1980s, I had become interested in what is now known as positive psychology, the study of human emotions that are healthy and pleasurable aspects of life (as opposed to the field’s prior concentration on clinical and emotional problems). From the late 1980s to the late 1990s, the focus of my research was on happiness and goal strivings. Then, in 1998, I was invited to attend a small conference on what were deemed the “classical sources of human strength”: wisdom, hope, love, spirituality, gratitude, humility. Each scientist was given the charge of presenting the known body of knowledge on his or her topic and developing a research agenda for the future.My first choice, humility, was taken; instead, I was assigned gratitude. I canvassed the theological, philosophical, and social science literatures, culling insights from these disciplines in an attempt to understand the essence of this universal strength. I soon came to believe that the capacity for gratitude is deeply woven into the fabric of the human species and possibly other species as well.
After the conference, I began a program of scientific research in collaboration with Michael McCullough, psychologist at the University of Miami, in which we made several important discoveries about gratitude. We discovered scientific proof that when people regularly engage in the systematic cultivation of gratitude, they experience a variety of measurable benefits: psychological, physical, and interpersonal. The evidence on gratitude contradicts the widely held view that all people have a “set-point” of happiness that cannot be reset by any known means: in some cases, people have reported that gratitude led to transformative life changes. And, even more important, the family, friends, partners, and others that surround them consistently report that people who practice gratitude seem measurably happier and are more pleasant to be around.
This book showcases the new science of gratitude. Woven into the narrative is a discussion of how the great religious leaders, philosophers, theologians, and writers have written about gratitude in different cultures and historical periods. To encourage the reader to begin the journey of gratitude practice, I include a discussion of practical techniques that will increase readers’ gratitude and happiness. I intend this book to provoke intellectual interest as well as selfexamination; I hope to provide you with information that might inspire you to make life-altering decisions.

What Gratitude Is

What exactly do we mean by gratitude? Most of us have an everyday sense of the concept. When I am grateful, I acknowledge that I have received a gift, I recognize the value of that gift, and I appreciate the intentions of the donor. The benefit, gift, or personal gain might be material or nonmaterial (emotional or spiritual).
From a scientific perspective, though, gratitude defies easy classification. Some years ago, the Web site for a popular radio talk show sold T-shirts emblazoned with the motto “Gratitude is an Attitude.” It certainly is an attitude, but it ismuch more.Gratitude has also been depicted as an emotion, a mood, a moral virtue, a habit, a motive, a personality trait, a coping response, and even a way of life. The Oxford English Dictionary defines gratitude as “the quality or condition of being thankful; the appreciation of an inclination to return kindness.” The word gratitude is derived from the Latin gratia, meaning “favor,” and gratus, meaning “pleasing.” All derivatives from this Latin root have to do with kindness, generousness, gifts, the beauty of giving and receiving, or getting something for nothing. Gratitude is pleasing. It feels good. Gratitude is also motivating. When we feel grateful, we are moved to share the goodness we have received with others.

Gratitude Is Recognizing and Acknowledging In my own thinking about gratitude, I’ve found it very helpful to conceive of it in terms of two stages. First, gratitude is the acknowledgment of goodness in one’s life. In gratitude we say yes to life. We af- firm that all things taken together, life is good and has elements that make it worth living. The acknowledgment that we have received something gratifies us, either by its presence or by the effort the giver went into choosing it. Second, gratitude is recognizing that the source(s) of this goodness lie at least partially outside the self. The object of gratitude is other-directed; one can be grateful to other people, to God, to animals, but never to oneself. This is one significant way in which gratitude differs from other emotional dispositions. A person can be angry at himself, pleased with herself, proud of himself, or feel guilty about doing wrong, but it would be bizarre to say that a person felt grateful to herself. Even if you bought yourself a lavish dinner, as I am inclined to do when I order room service, it would be peculiar if I were to give thanks tomyself. Thanks are directed outward to the giver of gifts.
From this angle, gratitude is more than a feeling. It requires a willingness to recognize (a) that one has been the beneficiary of someone’s kindness, (b) that the benefactor has intentionally provided a benefit, often incurring some personal cost, and (c) that the benefit has value in the eyes of the beneficiary. Gratitude implies humility—a recognition that we could not be who we are or where we are in life without the contributions of others. Gratitude also implies a recognition that it is possible for other forces to act toward us with beneficial, selfless motives. In a world that was nothing but injustice and cruelty, there would indeed be no possibility of gratitude. Being grateful is an acknowledgment that there are good and enjoyable things in the world.
These two terms, recognition and acknowledgment, need some unpacking. First, they suggest that gratitude (or thankfulness) is an effortful state to create and maintain. It is not for the intellectually lethargic. Thanking belongs to the realm of thinking: the two words stem from common etymological roots. Prominent existential philosopher Martin Heidegger was fond of saying “Denken ist Danken” (“thinking is thanking”). The French language is especially rich in expressions having to do with thanking. The term reconnaissance is from the French reconoissance, meaning an inspection or exploration for the purpose of gathering information. It typically has a military connotation, but in the context of gratitude it refers to inspecting or exploring one’s life for the purpose of seeing to whom thanks should be given. The French expression “je suis reconnaissant” is translated as a three-part construal: (1) “I recognize” (intellectually), (2) “I acknowledge” (willingly), and (3) “I appreciate” (emotionally). Only when all three come together is gratitude complete.
This brief etymological detour suggests already that gratitude is much more than mere politeness or a superficial feeling. Recognition is the quality that permits gratitude to be transformational. To recognize is to cognize, or think, differently about something from the way we have thought about it before. Think about an experience in your life when what was initially a curse wound up being a blessing in disguise. Maybe you were terminated from a job, a marital relationship dissolved, or a serious illness befell you. Gradually, you emerged from the resulting darkness with a new perception. Adversity was transformed into opportunity. Sorrow was transformed into gratefulness.You re-cognized the event. The re-cognizing might also involve matters much more mundane than downsizing, divorce, or disability. Driving to work on an ordinary day, we may for the first time notice a sunrise, a meadow bursting with spring blooms, or a formation of geese overhead, and find ourselves suddenly overcome with grateful awe.
Gratefulness is a knowing awareness that we are the recipients of goodness. In gratitude we remember the contributions that others have made for the sake of our well-being. On the recipient side, we acknowledge having received a benefit, and we realize that the giver acted intentionally in order to benefit us. On the giver side, we acknowledge that the receiver was in need of or worthy of the benefit, and we recognize that we are able to provide this benefit.We cannot be grateful without being thoughtful. We cannot shift our mental gears into neutral and maintain a grateful lifestyle. This is why gratitude requires contemplation and reflection.

Copyright © 2007 by Robert A. Emmons. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments v 1 The New Science of Gratitude 1 2 Gratitude and the Psyche 19 3 How Gratitude Is Embodied 56 4 Thanks Be to God: Gratitude and the Human Spirit 90 5 An Unnatural Crime: Ingratitude and Other Obstacles to Grateful Living 123 6 Gratitude in Trying Times 156 7 Practicing Gratitude 185 Notes 211 Index 233

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    Thanks for a Great Book

    Happiness books written for the popular read seem to fall into one of two general categories. They're either based on scientific evidence and give you research-tested techniques (such as "Finding Happiness in a Frustrating World"), OR, they give you advice and things to think about to help you "reframe" your thinking (such as "The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living"). While I can't say that one is better than the other, as they both have their attributes, I will say that I personally prefer the research-based books the best- like this one. <BR/><BR/>In this book, positive psychology researcher Robert Emmons, who is very well published I might add, will tell you all about the emotional disposition of gratitude- and how cultivating it in your life will not only make you happier, but just plain healthier all the way around! <BR/><BR/>So what exactly is gratitude anyway? While the defintion depends on who you ask, the book tells that it is helpful to think of it in terms of two stages: the acknowledgement of goodness, and the recognizing that the source of this goodness lies at least partially outside yourself. I never thought of it like that, but it makes all the sense in the world to me. <BR/><BR/>With that in hand, the book goes on to tell you exactly what gratitude has to do with happiness. As the book explains, there are three main things that determine your happiness: circumstances, genetics, and intentional activities. Cultivating gratitude fits into the happiness equation by being an intentional activity- one you can practice that has been shown to increase happiness levels. But does it REALLY work? <BR/><BR/>In a word, yes, and I can say this with certainty because the author himself has conducted randomized controlled trials that have proven this. (For those not in the know, the highest form of scientific proof that something actually works is the randomized controlled trial). And so, as you might have guessed, a good portion of the book is spent talking about his, as well as other's research, that will probably convince many, if not all readers, that cultivating gratitiude can not only make one happier, but healthier as well. <BR/><BR/>But while the book contains it's share of research, it very much leaves the reader with some practical tools by its end. Obstacles that get in the way of gratitude are discussed, as well as some very practical options to incorporate gratitude into your life, keeping a journal being just one example. <BR/><BR/>My final comment on this book is that if there were more like 'em, this world would truly be a better place. Here is a simple book that convincingly showed me that something as small and easy to do as being thankful, not only has the potential to change a person, but perhaps the rest of the world too. Thanks for a great book!

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2009

    Excellent read!

    Thanks!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2013

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