What Is Gratitude and How Can It Be Measured?

  • Philip C. Watkins


In this chapter I attempt to provide an adequate definition and description of gratitude. After a brief exploration of the history of the words grateful and thankful, I provide an outline of Rosenberg’s (Rev Gen Psychol 2:247–270, 1998) typology for the study of emotional phenomena. Following her approach, I begin by providing a definition of gratitude as an emotional state, and then I review research that speaks to the thought/action tendencies of grateful emotion. I move on to an extensive discussion of gratitude as affective trait, followed by a more brief review of the research relating to grateful mood. I conclude the definitional section of this chapter by discussing the relationship of gratitude to appreciation. An important aspect of operationalizing gratitude is being able to measure the construct, and I spend considerable space describing the various self-report and behavioral measures that have been used to measure gratitude. Indirect measures of gratitude would be valuable, and I describe how development of such measures might be pursued. I conclude by presenting a discussion contrasting indebtedness with gratitude. Although indebtedness and gratitude have often been treated as redundant constructs, research shows that these two states and traits should be distinguished.


Character Strength Affective Trait Mood Level Dispositional Gratitude Grateful Individual 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Adler, M. G., & Fagley, N. S. (2005). Appreciation: Individual differences in finding value and meaning as a unique predictor of subjective well-being. Journal of Personality, 73, 79–114.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Algoe, S. B., Gable, S. L., & Maisel, N. C. (2010). It’s the little things: Everyday gratitude as a booster shot in romantic relationships. Personal Relationships, 17, 217–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Algoe, S. B., & Haidt, J. (2009). Witnessing excellence in action: The ‘other-praising’ emotions of elevation, gratitude, and admiration. Journal of Positive Psychology, 4, 105–127.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Appadurai, A. (1985). Gratitude as a social mode in South India. Ethos, 13, 236–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Ayto, J. (1990). Dictionary of word origins. New York: Arcade.Google Scholar
  6. Barth, K. (1961). Church Dogmatics: Vol. IV. The doctrine of reconciliation, part one. Edinburgh, Scotland: T. & T. Clark.Google Scholar
  7. Bartlett, M. Y., & DeSteno, D. (2006). Gratitude and prosocial behavior: Helping when it costs you. Psychological Science, 17, 319–325.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Baumeister, R. F., & Ilko, S. A. (1995). Shallow gratitude: Public and private acknowledgement of external help in accounts of success. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 17, 191–209.Google Scholar
  9. Becker, J. A., & Smenner, P. C. (1986). The spontaneous use of thank you by preschoolers as a function of sex, socioeconomic status, and listener status. Language in Society, 15, 537–546.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Berger, F. (1975). Gratitude. Ethics, 85, 298–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bruce, F. F. (1963). The epistle of Paul to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.Google Scholar
  12. Brunner, A., Watkins, P. C., & Webber, A. (2010, April). Gratitude amongst the constellation of emotions. Poster presented at the 90th annual convention of the Western Psychological Association, Cancun, Mexico.Google Scholar
  13. Card, C. (1988). Gratitude and obligation. American Philosophical Quarterly, 25, 115–127.Google Scholar
  14. Clark, M. S., & Mills, J. (1979). Interpersonal attraction in exchange and communal relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 12–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Coffman, S. (1996). Parents’ struggles to rebuild family life after Hurricane Andrew. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 17, 353–367.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Diessner, R., & Lewis, G. (2007). Further validation of the Gratitude Resentment and Appreciation Test (GRAT). Journal of Social Psychology, 147, 445–447.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Emmons, R. A. (2004, July). Gratitude is the best approach to life. In L. Sundarajan (Chair), Quest for the good life: Problems/promises of positive psychology. Symposium presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association, Honolulu, HI.Google Scholar
  18. Emmons, R. A., & Crumpler, C. A. (2000). Gratitude as human strength: Appraising the evidence. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 19, 56–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An empirical investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377–389.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Farwell, L., & Wohlwend-Lloyd, R. (1998). Narcissistic processes: Optimistic expectations, favorable self-evaluations, and self-enhancing attributions. Journal of Personality, 66, 65–83.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). What good are the positive emotions? Review of General Psychology, 2, 300–319.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fredrickson, B. L. (2004). Gratitude, like other positive emotions, broadens and builds. In R. A. Emmons & M. E. McCullough (Eds.), The psychology of gratitude (pp. 145–166). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Frias, A., Watkins, P. C., Webber, A., & Froh, J. J. (2011). Death and gratitude: Death reflection enhances gratitude. Journal of Positive Psychology, 6, 154–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Frijda, N. (1988). The laws of emotion. American Psychologist, 43, 349–358.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gallup, G. (1998). Gallup survey results on “gratitude”, adults and teenagers. Emerging Trends, 20(4–5), 9.Google Scholar
  26. Gerrish, B. A. (1992). Grace and gratitude: The Eucharistic theology of John Calvin. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers.Google Scholar
  27. Gouldner, A. W. (1960). The norm of reciprocity: A preliminary statement. American Sociological Review, 25, 161–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Grant, A. M., & Gino, K. (2010). A little thanks goes a long way: Explaining why gratitude expression motivate prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 946–955.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gray, S. A., Emmons, R. A., & Morrison, A. (2001, August). Distinguishing gratitude from indebtedness in affect and action tendencies. Poster presented to the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, San Francisco.Google Scholar
  30. Greenberg, M. S. (1980). A theory of indebtedness. In K. J. Gergen, M. S. Greenberg, & R. H. Wills (Eds.), Social exchange: Advances in theory and research. New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  31. Greenberg, M. S., Bar-Tal, D., Mowrey, J., & Steinberg, R. (1982). Cross-cultural comparisons in the perception of indebtedness. Unpublished manuscript, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA.Google Scholar
  32. Greenwald, A. G., Poehlman, T. A., Uhlmann, E., & Banaji, M. R. (2009). Understanding and using the implicit association test: III. Meta-analysis of predictive validity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97, 17–41.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Heider, F. (1958). The psychology of interpersonal relations. New York: Wiley.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Janoff-Bulman, R., & Berger, A. R. (2000). The other side of trauma: Towards a psychology of appreciation. In J. H. Harvey & E. D. Miller (Eds.), Loss and trauma: General and close relationship perspectives (pp. 29–44). Philadelphia: Brunner-Routledge.Google Scholar
  35. Keltner, D., & Haidt, J. (2003). Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion. Cognition and Emotion, 17, 297–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Komter, A. (2004). Gratitude and gift exchange. In R. A. Emmons & M. E. McCullough (Eds.), The psychology of gratitude (pp. 195–212). Oxford, UK/New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Lambert, N. M., Graham, S. M., & Fincham, F. D. (2009). A prototype analysis of gratitude: Varieties of gratitude experiences. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 1193–1207.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lazarus, R. S., & Lazarus, B. N. (1994). Passion and reason: Making sense of our emotions. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Mathews, M. A., & Green, J. D. (2010). Looking at me, appreciating you: Self-focused attention distinguishes between gratitude and indebtedness. Cognition and Emotion, 24, 710–718.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Mauss, M. (2002). The gift: The form and reason for exchange in archaic societies. New York: Routledge. (Original work published in 1925)Google Scholar
  41. McCullough, M. E., Emmons, R. A., & Tsang, J. (2002). The grateful disposition: A conceptual and empirical topography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 112–127.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. McCullough, M. E., Kilpatrick, S. D., Emmons, R. A., & Larson, D. B. (2001). Gratitude as moral affect. Psychological Bulletin, 127, 249–266.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. McCullough, M. E., Tsang, J., & Emmons, R. A. (2004). Gratitude in intermediate affective terrain: Links of grateful moods to individual differences and daily emotional experience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86, 295–309.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Milton, J. (1999). Paradise lost. In B. Raffel (Ed.), The annotated Milton: Complete English poems (pp. 133–536). New York: Bantam Book. (Original work published in 1667)Google Scholar
  45. Naito, T., Wangwan, J., & Tani, M. (2005). Gratitude in university students in Japan and Thailand. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 36, 247–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Okamototo, S., & Robinson, W. P. (1997). Determinants of gratitude expressions in England. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 16, 411–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: American Psychological Association/Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Roberts, R. C. (1991a). Mental health and the virtues of community: Christian reflections on contextual therapy. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 19, 319–333.Google Scholar
  49. Roberts, R. C. (1991b). Virtues and rules. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 51, 325–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Roberts, R. C. (2004). The blessings of gratitude: A conceptual analysis. In R. A. Emmons & M. E. McCullough (Eds.), The psychology of gratitude (pp. 58–78). New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Rosenberg, E. L. (1998). Levels of analysis and the organization of affect. Review of General Psychology, 2, 247–270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Seidlitz, L., & Deiner, E. (1993). Memory for positive versus negative life events: Theories for the differences between happy and unhappy persons. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64, 654–664.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Teigen, K. H. (1997). Luck, envy, and gratitude: It could have been different. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 38, 313–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Tesser, A., Gatewood, R., & Driver, M. (1968). Some determinants of gratitude. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9, 233–236.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Thomas, M., & Watkins, P. (2003, May). Measuring the grateful trait: Development of the revised GRAT. Presentation to the 83rd annual convention of the Western Psychological Association, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.Google Scholar
  56. Tsang, J. (2006). The effects of helper intention on gratitude and indebtedness. Motivation and Emotion, 30, 199–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Van Gelder, M., Elster, B., & Watkins. (2006, April). The virtue of virtues: The importance of psychological strengths. Paper presented at the annual convention of the Western Psychological Association, Palm Springs, CA.Google Scholar
  58. Van Gelder, M., Ruge, L., Frias, A., & Watkins, P. C. (2007, May). Gratitude and indebtedness are distinct traits: Differential associations with well-being. Presentation to the annual convention of the Western Psychological Association, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.Google Scholar
  59. Verduyn, P., Delvaux, E., Van Coillie, H., Tuerlinckx, F., & Van Mechelen, I. (2009). Predicting the duration of emotional experience: Two experience sampling studies. Emotion, 9, 83–91.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Visser, M. (2009). The gift of thanks: The roots and rituals of gratitude. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.Google Scholar
  61. Watkins, P. C. (2007). Gratitude. In R. Baumeister & K. Vohs (Eds.), Encyclopedia of social psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  62. Watkins, P. C. (2009, April). Gratitude: Amplifier of the good. Invited paper presented to the 89th annual convention of the Western Psychological Association, Portland, OR.Google Scholar
  63. Watkins, P. C., Gibler, A., Mathews, M., & Kolts, R. (2005, August). Aesthetic experience enhances gratitude. Paper presented to the annual convention of the American Psychological Association, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  64. Watkins, P. C., Grimm, D. L., & Kolts, R. (2004). Counting your blessings: Positive memories among grateful persons. Current Psychology, 23, 52–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Watkins, P. C., Scheer, J., Ovnicek, M., & Kolts, R. D. (2006). The debt of gratitude: Dissociating gratitude and indebtedness. Cognition and Emotion, 20, 217–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Watkins, P. C., Woodward, K., Stone, T., & Kolts, R. D. (2003). Gratitude and happiness: The development of a measure of gratitude and its relationship with subjective well-being. Social Behavior and Personality, 31, 431–452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Watson, D., Clark, L. A., & Tellegen, A. (1988). Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: The PANAS scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 1063–1070.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Wellman, C. H. (1999). Gratitude as virtue. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 80, 284–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Wimsatt, W. C. (1976). Reductionism, levels of organization, and the mind-body problem. In G. G. Globus, G. Maxwell, & I. Savodnik (Eds.), Consciousness and the brain: A scientific and philosophical inquiry (pp. 205–267). New York: Plenum.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Wood, A. M., Maltby, J., Stewart, N., & Joseph, S. (2008). Conceptualizing gratitude and appreciation as a unitary personality trait. Personality and Individual Differences, 44, 621–632.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philip C. Watkins
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyEastern Washington UniversityCheneyUSA

Personalised recommendations