Philip Watkins received his BS in psychology from the University of Oregon and his PhD in clinical psychology from Louisiana State University. He is now is Professor of Psychology at Eastern Washington University. Gratitude has been the focus of his research since 2000. Phil is the author of two books (Gratitude and the Good Life and Positive Psychology 101), and has authored a number of research articles on gratitude. He has served as an associate editor of the Journal of Positive Psychology, and is currently on their editorial board. His research now investigates questions related to how gratitude enhances well-being, the nature of gratitude toward God, and the factors that enhance or inhibit gratitude.
Research has overwhelmingly supported the conclusion that gratitude is good for you. In short, studies have found that grateful people tend to be happy people. But more convincing evidence comes from experimental studies that have shown that gratitude exercises cause increased happiness. For example, we recently published a study where each participant completed an exercise every day for one week. In our treatment of interest—the gratitude 3-blessings intervention—students listed three blessings from the last 48 hours, and then they wrote about how each of these “good things” made them feel grateful. We found that the happiness of those in the gratitude 3-blessings treatment increased significantly more than a placebo group and another group that recalled “3 good things” without gratitude. Thus, it wasn’t simply recalling good memories that made people happy, grateful processing of those memories was important to enhancing well-being. Moreover, we actually found that the happiness of those in our gratitude group kept going up after treatment, while the happiness of those in the other groups was returning to pretreatment levels. Our results suggested that it was not that the gratitude exercise simply made people momentarily happy, but that it changed their thinking in some way that promoted their future well-being. Just one week of the gratitude 3-blessings exercise seemed to “train their brain for happiness”, so to speak. Gratitude exercises may “train your brain” to appreciate blessings in your life, a way of thinking that may be important to your happiness.