The Psychology of Gratitude

The Psychology of Gratitude

The Psychology of Gratitude

The Psychology of Gratitude


Gratitude, like other positive emotions, has inspired many theological and philosophical writings, but it has inspired very little vigorous, empirical research. In an effort to remedy this oversight, this volume brings together prominent scientists from various disciplines to examine what has become known as the most-neglected emotion. The volume begins with the historical, philosophical, and theoretical foundations of gratitude, then presents the current research perspectives from social, personality, and developmental psychology, as well as from primatology, anthropology, and biology. The volume also includes a comprehensive, annotated bibliography of research on gratitude. This work contributes a great deal to the growing positive psychology initiative and to the scientific investigation of positive human emotions. It will be an invaluable resource for researchers and students in social, personality, and developmental, clinical, and health psychology, as well as to sociologists and cultural anthropologists.


So after every case, you have to go up to somebody and say “thank you”? What a … nightmare.

—My Cousin Vinny (Launer, Schiff, & Lynn, 1992)

Gratitude is one of the most neglected emotions and one of the most underestimated of the virtues. In most accounts of the emotions, it receives nary a mention. Even in broader surveys of the attitudes, it is often ignored. And in the most prominent lists of the virtues, notably Aristotle's, it is not included. Gratitude is often included, of course, in Christian treatises on the virtues, but then it is usually directed only toward a single if exceptional object, namely God the Almighty. And yet gratitude is one of those responses that seems essential to and among civilized human beings, and perhaps it is even significant among some social animals, as de Waal and others have persuasively shown.

The neglect of gratitude is, in itself, interesting. Why does it not come to mind immediately when the social emotions and virtues are in question? Why should we be loathe to admit that we feel and should feel indebted to someone who is our benefactor and has helped us in some way? This way of describing the emotion is already a clue. We (especially in this society) do not like to think of ourselves as indebted. We would rather see our good fortunes as our own doing (whereas the losses and sufferings are not our fault), thus the neglect of gratitude. Like the emotion of trust (to which it is closely akin), it involves an admission of our vulnerability and our dependence on . . .

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