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An Attitude for Gratitude

 

The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues is examining the importance of personal and workplace values. One of our flagship research projects examines the emphasis placed on a number of life values, such as honesty, self-control, gratitude and fairness. By engaging with people across the UK we hope to develop a picture of these values and disseminate reports of our findings.

If you wish to contact the researchers involved with this project, please see the below contact information.

Dr. Blaire Morgan - b.e.morgan@bham.ac.uk

Dr. Liz Gulliford - l.z.gulliford@bham.ac.uk

Big Question: How do we, as a nation, understand gratitude? 

This project examines gratitude both theoretically and empirically. We are undertaking an interdisciplinary conceptual analysis of gratitude that brings together theological, philosophical and psychological understandings of gratitude.

Researchers have offered several explanations and definitions of the concept of gratitude, for example that gratitude is an emotion, a disposition, a personality trait, a habit. Some argue that it involves a specific relationship between a benefactor (who bestows a benefit), a benefit (a gift, favour etc.), and a beneficiary (who receives the benefit), whilst others argue that people can experience a more general sense of gratitude, for example to the world or to God. 

Alongside a top-down conceptual analysis we will conduct a bottom-up empirical study exploring how gratitude is conceptualised by the lay-person. We will assess what UK citizens believe gratitude is and what kinds of features they think make up the concept of gratitude. We will examine how these conceptualisations relate to the definitions offered by researchers. 


Where we are now?

It is two years since the ‘Attitude for Gratitude’ project began- where are we now?

With the data collection for the project having now concluded, we are in the final stages of writing up the findings of the Attitude for Gratitude project and drawing some key recommendations from our work.  

We have now also begun to examine whether perceptions about gratitude change over the life-span with a comparison of primary school students, secondary school students, and adults. Relatedly, our paper about how gratitude should be taught, ‘Educating Gratitude,’ will soon be published in the Journal of Moral Education.

In an ambitious move we have also been developing a multi-component measure of gratitude (MCGM) to address the research question: are some people more grateful than others? This questionnaire has been developed specifically to incorporate conceptual, emotional, attitudinal and behavioural aspects of gratitude and, after piloting, has been administered to over 1500 laypeople across Britain, alongside a variety of indices of well-being and personality.

Approach

Too much existing empirical work has superimposed a pre-existing definition of gratitude onto research. We will endeavour to discover lay peoples’ concepts of gratitude in order to build a working definition based on how peopleactually conceive of gratitude as opposed to how philosophers and psychologists believe the construct should be comprehended. 

Our first study, a prototype analysis, is based upon a series of experiments that were conducted in Florida, where the researchers were similarly interested in the lay-person’s perception of gratitude. This study allowed the researchers to highlight 52 attributes that are agreed upon as key features of gratitude. Our goal is to similarly highlight key attributes of gratitude as decided upon by participants in the UK. This will provide us with our own working definition of gratitude as well as allowing for a cross-cultural comparison of gratitude features. 

Using the conceptual understandings gleaned from this study we will begin an ambitious research project in which we will survey around 10,000 individuals in the UK, across a wide range of ages to gain a broader understanding of what gratitude is, as well as when, how and with whom it happens. We will employ a variety of ways of sampling participants for this large scale project.

The following video gives a flavour of our approach:

Research Questions

We seek to understand:

What gratitude is

What do people in British Society believe gratitude is? Do they perceive gratitude to involve a specific benefit that is bestowed onto someone by some generous benefactor, or do they also believe gratitude encompasses feeling grateful for one’s life, nature, or things that are cannot be attributed to a specific benefactor? What kinds of situations lead to gratitude? Must an actual benefit be involved or is the intention to benefit another enough to arouse gratitude? Must the benefactor intend to bestow the benefit or can an accidental benefit arouse gratitude? The concept of gratitude may not be as clear cut as one may think!

What value is placed on gratitude?

Is gratitude thought to be an important value in a person’s character? Does receiving gratitude from another make you like them more? Is gratitude important in social relationships?

What kind of people tend to be grateful?

What other characteristics are associated with gratitude? Does having a religious affiliation make value gratitude more? Does living through hardship make you more grateful for what you have?

How gratitude has been applied to society as a means of promoting the common good

What policies and practices are in place to promote gratitude? Do schools run projects or assignments which focus on values such as gratitude?

How gratitude could be further applied in society to foster the common good

What do the people living in Britain think can be done to promote gratitude? What would be an effective way of promoting gratitude?

Methods

First, we will be undertaking a prototype analysis of gratitude which will be split into two parts. Part 1 will involve asking participants to list down all features they associate with the concept of gratitude. They will also be asked to rate the positivity or negativity of these gratitude features on a scale ranging from very positive to very negative. The list of features we obtain will be coded and categorised by the researchers to highlight key features of gratitude.

Part 2 will employ a separate set of participants. These participants will be presented with the list of key features of gratitude that were obtained from part 1 of the study and asked to rate the importance of each of these features. That is, they will be asked to pick out which are the most central features of gratitude and which are the less important, peripheral, features of gratitude. This data will then be used to rank the key features of gratitude from most central to most peripheral.

Having highlighted the key features of gratitude we will be a position to create a survey using the definition of gratitude that will have emerged from our first study, to find out how gratitude is valued by the British public, what sorts of people seem to be especially grateful (and for what), what kinds of people are less grateful (and why), and suggestions for how gratitude might be fostered in daily life. This question will aim to answer the kinds of questions highlighted above to attain a comprehension view of gratitude in Britain. 

Expected Outcomes

The people who take part in our research will be challenged to think abstractly about the concept of gratitude, as well as reflect practically on the gratitude they themselves experience and express to others. We hope they will become more aware of gratitude and of why it is a vital value both to the self and to wider society. We are very optimistic that the findings from this major project will attract the interest of the media, community leaders and policy makers, with the understanding that gratitude can be cultivated in schools and communities in the UK to enrich the quality of our individual and community life.

Public Engagement

We have been examining what the British public are grateful for by inviting them to submit ‘Thank You Letters’ at various public engagement events. Aiming to increase awareness of the importance of gratitude and to get people thinking about what or who they might be grateful to or for we have provided platforms for people to express their gratitude collecting in the process over over 600 thank you letters.


Above:  In honour of World Gratitude Day, on the 19 September 2014 the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues turned Victoria Square, Birmingham into a ‘Gratitude Space’ where people could reflect on and celebrate all that they are grateful for. More photos from the event are available in the Media Centre 

Publications

Over the course of the Attitude for Gratitude project we have written and collaborated on papers including:

  • Gulliford, L., Morgan, B. & Kristjánsson, K. (2013) Recent Work on the Concept of Gratitude in Philosophy and Psychology. The Journal of Value Inquiry, 47 (3), 285-317. Available here.
  • Morgan, B., Gulliford, L. & Kristjánsson, K. (2014) Gratitude in the UK: A new prototype analysis and a cross-cultural comparison. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 9 (4), 281-294. Available here
  • Morgan, B. Gulliford, L. & Carr, D. (In Press) Educating gratitude: Some conceptual and moral misgivings. the Journal of Moral Education. 
Research Findings
All our findings will shortly be made public at the ‘Attitude for Gratitude’ report launch in February 2015 and will be downloadable via our website. We encourage you to check in with this web page to find out more!