Academic journal article Current Research in Psychology

Can Health Status and Self-Esteem Predict Gratitude in Adult Females?

Academic journal article Current Research in Psychology

Can Health Status and Self-Esteem Predict Gratitude in Adult Females?

Article excerpt

Introduction

The field of psychology has primarily tended to focus on the disease model when treating impairment to human functioning (Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). This model emphasises human psychopathology and abnormalities, while failing to acknowledge fulfillment in individuals. The start of the millennium saw a positive psychology movement that considered the positive features of a worthwhile life (Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). The positive psychology field emphasises the subjective experience of human life, such as satisfaction, optimism and happiness (Peterson et al., 2005). This realm of psychology is expected to help individuals and communities flourish and survive in the most adverse situations (Geraghty et al., 2010). A newly researched positive emotion is gratitude, which is considered a buffer against negative experiences. With a paucity of research concerning the experience of gratitude in a health care setting, the current study aimed to identify the relationship between gratitude, self-esteem and health status within a sample of the general population.

Gratitude

Often considered a subsector of positive psychology, gratitude refers to a positive orientation towards life (Geraghty et al., 2010). Originating from the Latin root gratia, meaning graciousness and gratefulness, gratitude is associated with the act of giving and receiving kindness (Emmons and McCullough, 2003; Emmons and Shelton, 2002). Often described as a cognitive-affective state, gratitude is associated with a perception of receiving a personal benefit which was not sought after or earned, but is instead experienced by the act of kindness by another person (Emmons and McCullough, 2003). Gratitude has previously been conceptualised as an attitude, a moral virtue, a habit, an emotion, a personality trait and a coping response (Emmons and McCullough, 2003). Most commonly described as an emotion, gratitude is considered a reaction that results from a positive personal outcome, which can be directed to other persons in addition to interpersonal, such as nature, or nonhuman sources (e.g., the universe or God). As a psychological state, gratitude is a subjective experience which can lead to other intrinsically positive experiences (e.g., hope and optimism; Walker and Pitts, 1998).

In the past, gratitude has been neglected by psychologists, who have tended to focus on the basic emotions of anger and fear (Shaver et al., 1987). One explanation for the absence of research surrounding gratitude and gratefulness is the ambiguity and uncertainty involved in defining the concept as a basic emotion (Emmons and McCullough, 2004). Similarly, psychology in the past has tended to overlook positive emotions in place of those negative emotions associated with mental illness (McCullough et al., 2001).

Regarding emotional awareness, research indicates that women tend to be more attuned to their inner thoughts and open with their feelings when compared to men (Ciarrochi et al., 2005; Kashdan et al., 2009). It is expected that these gender differences are a reflection of different experiences of gratitude between genders (Kashdan et al., 2009). Studies show that females are more likely to experience and express gratitude and develop greater benefits through building satisfying relationships (Froh et al., 2009). Conversely, men are more likely to view gratitude as a sign of vulnerability, often perceiving it as a threat to masculinity and social status and consequently attempting to conceal it (Kashdan et al., 2009).

Benefits of Gratitude

Gratitude has been linked to health and the general well-being of individuals due to its positive nature (Emmons and Crumpler, 2000). Fredrickson and Levenson (1998) found that gratitude increased individuals' positive affect, which resulted in a more rapid decline in cardiovascular functions in participants after viewing a fear-inducing film-clip, compared to those in a neutral condition. …

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