Motivation and emotion/Book/2022/Gratitude and subjective wellbeing

Gratitude and subjective wellbeing:
What is the relationship between gratitude and subjective wellbeing?


The study of gratitude can be traced back throughout history as far as ancient times. The concept of subjective wellbeing is relatively new, being introduced by Ed Diener in the mid 1980s. Since then, research has explored these two concepts and whether they have a relationship with one another. This book chapter explores the definitions of gratitude and subjective wellbeing. It discusses the complexity of the concepts and considers both positive and negative views of the relationship. The psychological effects that influence humans is discussed[vague], as well as the limitations of existing literature and future research that needs to be considered[vague].

Focus questions:

  • What is the relationship between gratitude and subjective wellbeing?
  • Are there positive psychological effects from the relationship[Use open-ended questions]?
  • Does further research need to be completed[vague]?


[Provide more detail]

What is gratitude?Edit

Figure 1. Woman in nature expressing happiness, gratitude and freedom.
  • Gratitude, derived from the Latin word gratia, means gratefulness or thankfulness (Chowdhuryy, 2019).  

The exact definition of gratitude is a controversial topic among researchers. There are debates over certain aspects of the concept such as; can it be labelled as an emotion? Is gratitude positive or negative? Is it moral? What are the cognitive components of gratitude?  

The complexity of the concept is what has prohibited it from having a singular agreed upon definition. A few published definitions of gratitude include:  

  • Gratitude is the state of being grateful: thankfulness (Sanesone, R. & Sansone, L. 2010).  
  • Gratitude is an affirmation of goodness – humans affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we have received (Cohen, 2006).  
  • Gratitude represents the quintessential positive personality trait, being an indicator of a worldview that orientates towards noticing and appreciating positive things in life (Wood, et al. 2009).  

What is subjective wellbeing?Edit

  • Ed Dierner[spelling?] introduced the term subjective wellbeing in 1984. Dierner introduced it as a means of identifying the field of psychology that attempts to understand individual’s evaluations of their quality of life (Proctor, 2014). Subjective wellbeing is the personal perception and experiences of positive and negative emotional responses and global and specific cognitive evaluations of life satisfaction.
  • In simple terms, wellbeing is feeling well - ‘the experience of health, happiness and prosperity’. This is referring to having good mental health, how we cope with life stressors, life satisfaction and experiencing a sense of meaning in life (Wood, 2020). Subjective wellbeing is a state of balance and how our personal resources meet life challenges.
Debated topics among academics regarding gratitude:
  • Can gratitude be labelled an an emotion?
  • Is gratitude positive or negative?
  • Is gratitude moral?
  • What are the cognitive components of gratitude?

Current research findingsEdit

Positive Findings

The research of gratitude can be traced throughout history, back to ancient times. Subjective wellbeing is a more modern concept. The relationship between the two has been investigated by philosophers and researchers. There has been strong evidence for a cause-and-effect relationship between gratitude and increased subjective wellbeing, that has arisen from experimental design studies (Cohen, 2006).  A common result from numerous experimental studies has been that participating in gratitude exercises enhances subjective wellbeing in both short-term (one session) and long-term interventions.

Robert, A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough are American psychology professors who have had impactful research on the connection between gratitude and wellbeing. They conducted a study in 2003 that investigated the effect of a grateful outlook on psychological and physical wellbeing was examined (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). In studies 1 and 2, the participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 experimental conditions (hassles, gratitude listing and either neutral life events or social comparison); they then kept weekly (study 1) or daily (study 2) records of their moods, coping behaviours, physical symptoms, and overall life view. The results of the studies demonstrated that a conscious focus on blessings can have emotional and interpersonal benefits.  

Watkins and colleagues conducted four studies with the purpose of developing a valid measure of trait gratitude, and to evaluate the relationship of gratitude and subjective wellbeing (Watkins, et al. 2003). The studies were conducted evaluating the reliability and validity of the Gratitude Resentment and Appreciation Test (this is a measure of dispositional gratitude). The results revealed that this measure has good internal consistency and temporal stability. Results from two of the studies showed that a grateful mindset and grateful thinking improve mood and increase positive emotion. All four of the studies conducted by Watkins and colleagues support the theory that gratitude is an affective trait important to subjective wellbeing.

These are just two examples of impactful experimental studies that showed a positive response in individuals who participated in gratitude exercises. Individuals that experience gratitude are more likely to experience happiness and joy, and are able to build stronger interpersonal and interpersonal relationships (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). Increased gratitude heightens one's sense of subjective wellbeing, resulting in one having a more positive outlook on life in general. These studies and research shows that the relationship between gratitude and subjective wellbeing is a positive relationship.

Negative Findings

Majority of the research that investigates gratitude and subjective wellbeing focuses on the positive impacts[grammar?]. Tony Manela’s (2016) research took an opposing view; that gratitude does imply certain feelings, but there is no single positive feeling of gratitude. In Manela’s viewpoint, philosophers have focused on the positive and bright aspects of gratitude throughout history, so he explores the negative aspects of gratitude. Manela states throughout his work that gratitude is (in part) an affective disposition - a disposition to have certain feelings in certain situations. Manela argued that the positive emotions experienced tend to be present within the context of certain situations.

The psychological effectsEdit

Gratitude has been known to make individuals feel better in all aspects; mentally, physically and emotionally. Studies have demonstrated that individuals who express gratitude have a more optimistic outlook on life which means they also have a stronger subjective wellbeing (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). Research has demonstrated that gratitude and having a high sense of subjective well being reduces symptoms of psychopathology[factual?].

Figure 2. Happy Otter.
  • Individuals who regularly express gratitude are overall happier and are less likely to experience stress, burnout, anxiety and depression[factual?].
  • Gratitude impacts both interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships in a positive way. Individuals feel more mutually connected and loved by others when they regularly express gratitude and/or have gratitude regularly expressed to them[factual?].
  • Practicing gratitude improves physical health. Individuals who express gratitude regularly have shown to be more engaged in physical activities and more inclined to look after their physical health. This has positive results such as higher energy levels, stronger immune systems and overall better health[factual?].
  • Research has shown that gratitude also has a positive influence on psychological wellbeing that improves sleep quality. Individuals who express and experience gratitude frequently experience longer sleep duration and better sleep quality.[factual?]
  • Practicing gratitude significantly reduces cardiac diseases, inflammations and neurodegeneration.[factual?]

Case study:

A group of students have been working together on a large project over the last few weeks. After completing the project, the professor asked the class to sit in their groups and, one at a time, tell each other how they felt. The majority of the answers consisted of ‘tired’, ‘burnt out’, ‘exhausted’, ‘drained’. The professor wanted to see if he could shift this tired and ‘negative’ mood into a more 'positive' mood. He then asked them to each go around, one at a time, and say one thing they appreciated and were grateful for about their team. After sharing words of gratitude, it was obvious that there was a shift in moods among the students. They not only felt elevated to share their gratitude but felt empowered to receive it from others.

Future researchEdit

The majority of the research that exists on gratitude and subjective wellbeing indicates and concludes a positive relationship between the two concepts. Tony Manela researched the negative side of gratitude and suggests that there is no positive correlation between it and subjective wellbeing.

Further research should look be conducted into the negative aspects of gratitude as it is a complex concept and Manela believes many philosophers did not attempt to see past the (alleged) positive and happy impacts.  

Further research should be conducted on gratitude as an individual concept to attempt to provide a singular definition.

Gratitude has shown to have positive psychological impacts. Further research should be conducted to investigate the potential for gratitude exercises to be used as official treatment methods.  


1 A person who has a high level of satisfaction with their life, and who experiences a greater positive affect and little or less negative affect, would be deemed to have a high level of subjective well-being:


2 Gratitude has a strong negative impact on psychological well-being:



Gratitude is a complex concept that is debated among researchers to this day. The majority of research that has been conducted to analyze the relationship between gratitude and subjective wellbeing has had a positive correlation, showing that individuals who practice gratitude are more likely to experience health, happiness and prosperity and hold a more positive view on life. There are proven psychological effects from proacting[say what?] gratitude and from having a high sense of subjective wellbeing. Further research should be conducted to define the concept of gratitude more accurately, analyze the negative aspects of practicing gratitude and see if practicing gratitude and enhancing one's sense of wellbeing can be implemented into treatments.

See alsoEdit


Algoe, S. B., Fredrickson, B. L., & Gable, S. L. (2013). The social functions of the emotion of gratitude via expression. Emotion, 13(4), 605–609.

Alkozei, A. S, R. & Killgore, W.D.S. (2018). Gratitude and Subjective Wellbeing: A Proposal of Two Causal Frameworks. J Happiness Stud 19, 1519–1542

Bartlett, M. Y., & DeSteno, D. (2006). Gratitude and Prosocial Behavior: Helping When It Costs You. Psychological Science, 17(4), 319–325.

Chowdhury, M. (2019). The Neuroscience of Gratitude and the Effects on the brain, Grief and Bereavement<nowiki>.

Cohen, B, A. (2006). On Gratitude, Social Justice Research, 19(2).<nowiki>DOI: 10.1007/s11211-006-0005-9.

Emmons, & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377–389. <nowiki>

Manela. (2016). Negative Feelings of Gratitude. The Journal of Value Inquiry, 50(1), 129–140.<nowiki>

Proctor, L, C. (2014). Subjective Well-Being, Encyclopedia of Quality of Life and Well-Being Research, 6437-6441.<nowiki> DOI:10.1007/978-94-007-0753-5_2905

Sansone, A, R., & Sansone, A, L. (2010). Gratitude and Well Being: The Benefits of Appreciation, Psychiatry Edgmont, 7(11), 18 – 22.<nowiki>

Watkins, Woodward, K., Stone, T., & Kolts, R. L. (2003). GRATITUDE AND HAPPINESS: DEVELOPMENT OF A MEASURE OF GRATITUDE, AND RELATIONSHIPS WITH SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING. Social Behavior and Personality, 31(5), 431–451.<nowiki>

Wood, G.W. (2020). The Psychology of Wellbeing (1st ed.). Routledge.<nowiki>

Wood, M, A., Joseph, S., Maltby, J. (2009). Gratitude Predits Psychological Well-Being Above the Big Five Facets, Personality and Individual Differences, 46(4), 443-447.<nowiki>

External linksEdit