Thursday, December 29, 2022

Successful New Year's Resolutions


New Year's Resolutions are popular but there isn't much research about how well we do. Fortunately, Martin Oscarsson and his team studied over a thousand people to see what works.

Not surprisingly, they found that the most popular resolutions were physical health, weight loss, and eating habits.

Goals Make a Difference

After a full year, the most successful group reached nearly 59%  compared to a group that reached about 47%. The difference between the groups was the type of goal.

Successful people focused on goals they reached for (approach-oriented).

The lower success people worked on goals to avoid something (avoidance oriented).

Support  Helps

The participants were randomly assigned to 3 groups.

Group 1 did not receive support.

Group 2 received some support-- they learned about the value of support and received information and guidance on achieving personal goals.

Group 3 received extended support beyond that received in Group 2. For example, they learned more about setting effective goals and they received more emails.

The most successful people were in Group 2.


Oscarsson, M., Carlbring, P., Andersson, G., & Rozental, A. (2020). A large-scale experiment on New Year's resolutions: Approach-oriented goals are more successful than avoidance-oriented goals. PloS one15(12), e0234097.

Please check out my website

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Saturday, November 26, 2022

Thanksgiving and Joy to the World


A Circle of Well-Being

Gratitude and Joy

One of the beautiful holiday connections in the United States is the Thanksgiving to Christmas festivities. Just after Thanksgiving, I noticed that a former student posted a photo of an ultrasound. She and her husband had smiles as they hugged. She posted her Spring due date. Great Expectations!

We know a lot about gratitude. Saying thanks, writing gratitude letters, and keeping a gratitude journal are annual reminders of things we can do to promote our wellbeing and make the world a nicer place. That’s Thanksgiving.

But psychologists have also begun the study of joy, which until recently has been hidden amongst a sea of happiness research. Enter Philip Watkins and his colleagues who find evidence that sets joy apart from other good feelings.

Psychologists link the emotion of joy to good news. It’s not just any good news but something we long for—something we look forward to, hope for, and expect. Moreover, joy is not like getting a present in an exchange but being blessed beyond our expectation. Perhaps our blessing is a life-changing event and a sign that our future is somehow going to be brighter.

So, the theoretical link emerges. Grateful people appear poised to experience joy. Christmas is around the corner. Expectations are high. And Joy to the World is pregnant with meaning. Perhaps it’s no accident that many holidays fill the weeks of December.

One more thing before looking at a study. Watkins and his team observed that joy is somehow associated with spirituality in the sense that people are looking beyond themselves as if they wished to transcend the moment.

Joy and Gratitude

In a study by Watkins and his colleagues, volunteers were randomly assigned to one of three groups. Two groups focused on increasing either gratitude or pride and a third group was a neutral condition. As the researchers predicted, only those in the positive mood groups reported high levels of joy.

In a follow-up study, the researchers looked at the relationship between joy and other measures. Perhaps not surprisingly, high levels of joy were strongly linked to high levels of gratitude and overall, subjective appraisals of wellbeing.


Joy and gratitude are linked not just as mood states but as characteristics of personality. People who routinely express gratitude are ready to experience a joy in a deep and meaningful—perhaps even a life changing way. There are no guarantees of course. But there is a link here suggesting what psychologists call a positive cycle of virtues. Gratitude links to joyfulness and great joy links to gratitude.

And people of faith may connect with their forbears who expressed their thanksgiving with a hearty “Joy to the World.”



Watkins, P.C., Emmons, R. A., Greaves, M. R. & Bell, J. (2018) Joy is a distinct positive emotion: Assessment of joy and relationship to gratitude and well-being, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 13:5, 522-539, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2017.1414298


Read more about gratitude (chapter 4) and joy (chapter 9) in Living Well.

Available on AMAZON


 Related Posts

Measure JOY with the Dispositional Joy Scale

Measure GRATITUDE with the Gratitude Questionnaire 

Gratitude Letters and Psychological Health

Count Your Blessings: A Gratitude Experiment

Grateful People: The Big 12 - Psychology of Gratitude


I am a psychologist who has focused on positive psychology and the psychology of religion in recent decades.

Please check out my website

   and see my books on   AMAZON       or  GOOGLE STORE

Also, consider connecting with me on    FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton    

   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton    

You can read many published articles at no charge:

  Academia   Geoff W Sutton     ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton 



Sunday, November 13, 2022

Gratitude Letters and Psychological Health


Can the practice of gratitude actually improve mental health?

Many studies extol the benefits of expressing gratitude. What’s different about this study by Joel Wong and his colleagues are the participants. All of them were psychotherapy patients. The research question: Would gratitude writing add value to psychotherapy?


The patients

All 293 volunteers were young adults having an average age of 22 and the youngest were age 18. Most were women (65%). And most identified as “White/European.” They were seeking psychotherapy services at a university.

The plan

The researchers randomly assigned the patients to one of three groups.

1. Gratitude Letter writing and Psychotherapy. In three gratitude sessions, the participants wrote letters of thanks to people—most wrote to friends, mothers, and fathers. They had the option to send their letters or not—23% sent a letter.

2. Expressive Writing and Psychotherapy. In their sessions, the expressive writing group wrote about the most stressful and upsetting experiences.

3. Psychotherapy only. These participants only received psychotherapy and thus served as a comparison group.

The Assessment

Assessment Times

The participants completed a measure of mental health at 4 different times.

1. Before treatment then at intervals after the final writing session-

2. One week after

3. Four weeks after

4. Twelve weeks after

Assessment Measures

1. Behavioral Health Measure-20. This survey measures wellbeing, clinical symptoms, and life functioning.

2. Language analysis. This software (Linguistic Inquiry Word Count) developed by James Pennebaker and others analyses the language people use. The researchers focused on words related to mental health thus, expressions of positive and negative emotions.

3. Gratitude Questionnaire-6

What Happened?

At weeks 4 and 12, patients  in the gratitude writing group reported better mental health compared to those in the other groups.

The improvement in mental health was better after 12 weeks compared to 4 weeks.

See the article for details.


No study is perfect or universally applicable. The authors addressed limitations in their article.

As the authors suggest, psychotherapists may want to consider the value of adding gratitude letters as homework. Of course, this intervention must be based on the suitability of a gratitude letter.

We now have one more study supporting the value of expressing gratitude. It’s noteworthy that we may benefit from writing a letter even if we do not actually send it. Gratitude letters may actually bless us! Of course, that can be helpful when writing to someone whom we cannot locate or who has died. Some people may not even remember us.

I would hypothesize that religious people who express gratitude to God in prayer may be capturing a blessing for themselves. Perhaps it is even stronger for those who write their prayers as if writing a letter to God.


Gratitude- Read More

Count Your Blessings: A Gratitude Experiment

Grateful People: The Big 12 – Psychology of Gratitude

 Measuring Gratitude - The Gratitude Questionnaire- 6 

Cite this post (APA)

Sutton, G. W. (2022, November 13). Gratitude letters and psychological health. Geoff W. Sutton Blog. Retrieved from

Sharing ideas

#gratitude  #gratitudeletters  #positivepsychology


Wong, Y. J., Owen, J., Gabana, N.T., Brown, J.W. Mcinnis, S., Toth, P. & Gilman, L. (2016): Does gratitude writing improve the mental health of psychotherapy clients? Evidence from a randomized controlled trial, Psychotherapy Research, 28, (2) 1-11.



 Living Well: 10 Big Ideas of Faith and a Meaningful Life.  Buy on AMAZON  

The Little Book of Gratitude

 Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier


 Please check out my website

   and see my books on   AMAZON       or  GOOGLE STORE

Also, consider connecting with me on    FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton    

   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton    

You can read many published articles at no charge:

  Academia   Geoff W Sutton     ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton