Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 17, Issue 5, pp 2191–2212 | Cite as

Gratitude or Gratefulness? A Conceptual Review and Proposal of the System of Appreciative Functioning

  • Reuben D. RuskEmail author
  • Dianne A. Vella-Brodrick
  • Lea Waters
Review Article


Growing evidence indicates that gratefulness and gratitude are important for well-being and happiness. Yet, research to date has been hindered by a lack of conceptual clarity into the nature of these constructs. The present paper reviews existing literature and argues for a distinction between gratefulness and gratitude. While both gratefulness and gratitude are types of appreciative functioning and both involve benefit appraisals, only the latter concerns perceived agency. A set of triggers, moderating factors, and motivation and behavioural processes involved in gratefulness and gratitude are outlined, and differences are highlighted. From this vantage, it is argued that appreciative functioning can be adequately represented as a complex dynamic system, which involves a plurality of interacting processes. Some of these processes are common to gratefulness and gratitude and some are unique to each. The proposed conceptualisation of appreciative functioning spans aspects of attention, cognition, emotion, motivation and social behaviour, integrating the diverse approaches to gratefulness and gratitude taken in the literature. It is suggested that grateful dispositions can be understood as characteristic self-reinforcing patterns in which this complex system functions. The paper also highlights the need to measure gratitude and gratefulness more independently and to both qualitatively and quantitatively determine the unique contribution of the two constructs to well-being.


Gratitude Gratefulness Happiness Well-being  Positive psychology Complex dynamic systems 



The authors gratefully acknowledge Dr. Blaire Morgan and Dr. Liz Gulliford from the Jubilee Centre for Character and Values, School of Education, University of Birmingham for their helpful feedback on a draft of the manuscript.

Supplementary material

10902_2015_9675_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (231 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (pdf 231 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Reuben D. Rusk
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Dianne A. Vella-Brodrick
    • 1
  • Lea Waters
    • 1
  1. 1.Melbourne Graduate School of EducationUniversity of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Mindquip LimitedChristchurchNew Zealand

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