Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 19, Issue 8, pp 2421–2444 | Cite as

Examining Psychosocial Pathways Underlying Gratitude Interventions: A Randomized Controlled Trial

  • Brenda H. O’ConnellEmail author
  • Deirdre O’Shea
  • Stephen Gallagher
Research Paper


Despite their unprecedented popularity, the psychological mechanisms through which gratitude journals operate are poorly understood. Also the use of gratitude journaling to enhance social relationships has been neglected in past research, despite the importance of healthy relationships for people’s happiness. This randomized controlled study examined the effect of (a) a traditional gratitude journal (fostering gratitude for daily life), and (b) an interpersonal gratitude journal (fostering gratitude for one’s existing social relationships), versus (c) an active control journal, on life satisfaction. Ninety-one participants were randomized to one of three conditions with 2-week and 1-month follow-ups. The traditional gratitude intervention (vs. control) showed improvements in friendship at immediate post-test and 1-month follow-up, and these effects were accounted for by changes in gratitude over time. Additionally, the traditional gratitude intervention (vs. control) predicted enhanced life satisfaction at follow-up, and this was serially mediated by 6 week changes in gratitude and perceived friendship quality. No such differences over time were observed between the interpersonal gratitude intervention and either the control intervention or the traditional gratitude intervention. Actively appreciating things in daily life appears to be effective in enhancing the quality of people’s social relationships, and producing sustained improvements in subjective wellbeing.


Gratitude interventions Randomized controlled trial Social relationships Life satisfaction Happiness 

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 18 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brenda H. O’Connell
    • 1
    Email author
  • Deirdre O’Shea
    • 2
  • Stephen Gallagher
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyNational University of Ireland MaynoothMaynooth, KildareIreland
  2. 2.Department of Personnel and Employment Relations, Kemmy Business SchoolUniversity of LimerickLimerickIreland
  3. 3.Centre for Social Issues Research, Study of Anxiety, Stress and Health Lab, Health Research Institute, Department of PsychologyUniversity of LimerickLimerickIreland

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