Thursday, November 24, 2016

Grateful People: The Psychology of Gratitude

The American Holiday of Thanksgiving is a good time to focus on gratitude. Gratitude is a common human emotion and a virtue among adherents of many religions. 

Christians are encouraged to count their blessings and offer thanks each day. 

In psychology, gratitude is a positive emotion expressed toward those who have given some gift or benefit. For people of faith, gifts ultimately come from God. 

It’s no surprise that there is a positive correlation between religiosity or spirituality and gratitude.

Don't wait for Thanksgiving to enjoy the benefits of gratitude.

The Grateful Living

What’s true about grateful people compared to those who are low on gratefulness?


1.  Higher positive feelings
2.  Higher life satisfaction
3.  More vitality
4.  More optimism
5.  More generous
6.  More helpful
7.  More likely to attend religious services
8.  More likely to practice their faith
9.  Less interested in material goods
10. Less likely to judge success in terms of possessions
11. Less envious of others
12. More likely to share

Research Notes

Gratitude journals work. People who kept a weekly gratitude journal felt better about their lives, were more optimistic, reported fewer physical symptoms, and exercise more than those in other groups who recorded hassles or neutral life events.

Making a gratitude list helps personal goal attainment. 

Young adults who performed daily gratitude exercises had increased alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to people in other research groups—people who focused on hassles or comparing themselves to others who had less.

Writing letters of gratitude increased happiness and life satisfaction, and decreased depressive symptoms.

A four-week gratitude program resulted in higher life satisfaction and self-esteem compared to people in a control condition.

Both gratitude and forgiveness were linked to well-being in a sample of people receiving psychotherapy.

Women appear to gain more from gratitude than men do. Compared to women, men were less likely to feel and express gratitude. Men were more critical when evaluating gratitude, and overall benefited less than women did.

Women, who were breast cancer patients, benefited from gratitude when they were open to others.

Gratitude promotes high-quality relationships.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Algoe, S.B. & Stanton, A.L. (2012). Gratitude when it is needed most: Social functions of gratitude in women with metastatic breast cancer. Emotion, 12, 163-168. DOI: 10.1037/a0024024

Emmons, R. A., & Crumpler, C. A. (2000). Gratitude as a human strength: Appraising the evidence. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 19, 56-69.

Emmons, R. A., & Kneezel, T. T.(2005). Giving thanks: Spiritual and religious correlates of gratitude. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 24, 140-148. 

Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: Experimental studies of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377-389.

Froh, J. J., Bono, G., & Emmons, R. A. (2010). Being grateful is beyond good manners: Gratitude and motivation to contribute to society among early adolescents. Motivation and Emotion, 34, 144-157.
Froh, J., Sefick, W. J., & Emmons, R. A. (2008). Counting blessings in early adolescents: An experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being.  Journal of School  Psychology, 46, 213-233.

Kashdan, T.B., Mishra, A., Breen, W. E., & Froh, J.J. (2009). Gender differences in gratitude: Examining appraisals, narratives, the willingness to express emotions, and changes in psychological needs. Journal of Personality, 77, 691-730. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2009.00562.x

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. 
Rash, J.A., Matsuba, M.K., & Prkachin, K.M. (2011). Gratitude and well-being: Who benefits the most from a gratitude intervention? Applied psychology: Health and well-being, 3, 350-369. DOI: 10.1111/j.1758-0854.2011.01058.x

Toepfer, S.M., Cichy, K., & Peters, P. (2012). Letters of gratitude: Further evidence for author benefits. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13, 187-201. DOI: 10.1007/s10902-011-9257-7

Toussaint, L. & Friedman, P. (2009). Forgiveness, gratitude, and well-geing: The mediating role of affect and beliefs. Journal of Happiness Studies, 10, 635-654. DOI: 10.1007/s10902-008-9111-8

Tsang, J., Ashleigh, S., & Carlisle, R.D. (2012). An experimental test of the relationship between religion and gratitude. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 4, 40-55.  DOI: 10.1037/a0025632

This is an update of a 2013 post


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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Calls for Reconciliation and Unity: Just Emotional Nonsense?

Two big splits happened in Western nations this year. The British voted to exit the EU and Americans fought or endured a presidential campaign punctuated by harsh words and allegations of crimes, treason, and immorality.

I've heard calls for reconciliation and unity. Sometimes the calls make sense. Sometimes they almost seem insulting. And at other times the encouragement to reconcile or unify is ridiculous.

The only way to make sense of these calls is to get beyond the glibness. I'm talking about the kind of glibness that fits on a bumper sticker like "Missouri values." What values do you claim--that's what I want to know.

RECONCILIATION- Should we get together and trust each other?

It is nice to seek reconciliation. It's a feel good word. I noticed earlier this year that Pope Francis met with Lutherans - in case you haven't heard, the 500th anniversary of the big split comes up next year. The "Reformation" was indeed a major split--but that's another story.

Reconciliation presupposes there was a good relationship that ruptured. Now both parties wish to try and work together again. So, it makes sense for the UK to reconcile with the EU to find ways to work together--perhaps trade and defense.

In the US, families and friends have taken opposite sides in a tough political campaign. Some of the rhetoric is appalling--bound to hurt someone. Reconciliation can make sense provided there's no risk of harm. I clearly mean no physical harm. But I also mean no ongoing emotional abuse too.

What's crucial in reconciliation efforts is trust. Trust is built one small action at a time. A promise kept. A commitment honored. You can't work with someone who says one thing and does another.

You can't trust someone who has the power to carry out threats of harm. Reconciliation with an abuser is ridiculous. Why should anyone take such a risk?

Equally absurd is asking people to reconcile who haven't ever had a relationship. There's nothing to build on. Nothing to repair. Calls for reconciliation sound like self-righteous self-promotion when there's no relationship to repair.

Reconciliation requires trust.

UNITY- Should we be united? All in?

We are all humans. We are all Americans. We are all (enter ethnic group). We are all Christians. Whatever!

Humans have always been divided over something. Calls for unity can make sense when there's a superordinate need. Indeed it happens. Massive storms, earthquakes, and disasters bring out the best in many people within and outside a national boundary. People are united in a common cause. Peoples' lives are saved.

Americans, like many people of many nations, can be united in the quest to achieve common goals. We value education, strong families, security, and so on. But the rub comes when the details are put before us and someone has to pay the bill.

Calls for unity only make sense when people share a common value or cause. Calls for unity are dangerous if a powerful majority squashes minority opinions.

Calls for unity can serve to cover crime and deceit.

Calls for unity can be an excuse to silence opposing voices.

Unity is not always the best policy.

Consensus can result in harm to a family, business, church or nation when wise dissenters are ignored.


What makes sense to me are calls for decency and respect.

Let's disagree with ideas, policies, and plans in an effort to make a country or the world a better place for its inhabitants.

Let us reason together. Let us be persuaded by reason and evidence.

Let us not destroy another's humanity to win a debate or argument.

Let us check facts before insisting an opinion is true.

Let us listen to what other's say before denouncing their views.

Let us confront harm and wrongdoing forcefully.

And let us grant others the freedom to disagree without compelling agreement.

And let us apologize when anger disrupted relationships and served no righteous purpose. To be sure, when we've hurt co-workers and friends in arguments, let us show good faith through kindness, affirming comments, and cooperation where values are not compromised.

RELIGIOUS FIGHTS- A special call to the religious.

Some religious folks have a knack for claiming God is on their side.

A famous leader will lead in prayer or claim God spoke thus and so. If a group of people disagrees with this self-appointed grandee then they are branded as sinners, godless, heretics, blind and worse.

Religious folks can perpetuate conflict when they assert divine knowledge and use their social power to pit one group against another within their own faith group or between groups.

Of course, that's why I wrote A House Divided-- I've seen a worsening in the harshness of rhetoric dividing religious cultures. And often in the US, the divisions involve politics -- as if the church did not have enough issues to resolve!

Because most Americans are Christians and the most vocal commentators on culture call themselves evangelicals, the call for decency and respect ought to begin with evangelical leaders. I'm calling for it but I'm not a leader so maybe some of us nonleaders can challenge the leaders to transform their rhetoric.

But I'm not asking for evangelicals or any other group to give up their ideas about what is best for Americans. Nor would I want Christians to give up a strongly held conviction for the sake of unity.

I am asking Christians to disagree in a respectful manner most of the time. And to apologize when emotions interfere with decent discourse. We'll not be saints. And we need not be pushovers. We will get angry but let us be quick to apologize, strengthen self-control, and find ways to cooperate.

And let us not forget to love our neighbors.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

How do you measure mysticism?

Mysticism and the M(Mysticism) -Scale Factors

Scholars disagree on how to define mysticism, which makes it difficult to have a meaningful discussion. There is a growing consensus that an experience of unity is a common experience.

There is a tendency among philosophers to discuss mysticism as an experience of a reality that is not known by the usual sources of evidence such as our senses or even introspection. For a more detailed definition with an explanation of terms see the Stanford Encyclopedia entry for mysticism. Following is their somewhat tighter definition of mysticism.

A (purportedly) super sense-perceptual or sub sense-perceptual unitive experience granting acquaintance of realities or states of affairs that are of a kind not accessible by way of sense-perception, somatosensory modalities, or standard introspection.

Many contemporary behavioral scientists trace the history of scientific inquiry into mysticism to the exploratory 1917 work, The Varieties of Religious Experience, by American Psychologist and Philosopher, William James. By thinking of mysticism as a religious experience, scientists separate the phenomena from religious beliefs and religious behavior (i.e., practices or rituals).

British philosopher Walter Terence Stace’s  study of mysticism (Mysticism and Philosophy) influenced the work of psychological scientist, Ralph W. Hood Jr., who developed a three factor Mysticism Scale (M-Scale) to measure mysticism. When generating items for the scale, Hood relied on the theory and descriptions presented by Stace.

The M-Scale

The M-Scale factors provide a look at one conceptualization of mysticism that can be measured.

1. Introvertive. An experience of unity and the lack of a sense of self. This experience is at least low on interpretations based on a specific religious context. Thus, a common reported experience of encountering a bright light may be interpreted as God by Jews and Jesus by Christians.

2. Extrovertive. An experience of oneself uniting with all the objects in the universe.

3. Interpretive. An elaboration of mystical experiences.

The 8 M-Scale Groupings

Several studies have examined the psychometric properties of the M-scale. The scale included 32-items. The items are presented in eight groups of 4-items. Following are examples for each of the eight groups.

Inner Subjectivity: “I never had an experience in which I felt as if all things were alive.”

Unity in Diversity: “I have had an experience in which I realized the oneness of myself with all things.”

Unity / Ego quality (unity as loss of a sense of self): “I have had an experience in which everything seemed to disappear from my mind until I was conscious only of a void.”

Timelessness / Spacelessness: “I have had an experience which was both timeless and spaceless”
Ineffability “I have had an experience that is impossible to communicate.”

Positive Affect: “I have experienced profound joy.”

Religious Holiness: “I have had an experience which left me with a feeling of awe.”

Noetic quality (insight, nonrational sense of truth): “I have had an experience in which a new view of reality was revealed to me.”

Mysticism Scale Research

Hood (1975) presented early research on a 3-factor model based on a set of 32-items. The content reflects the ideas of Stace mentioned above. (This article contains the list of the 32 items).

In a 2001 publication, Hood and others evaluated the M-scale in two studies with 1,379 Christians (mostly) in study one and with 188 Americans (mostly Christian) and 185 Muslims (Iranian Shi’i) in study two. The pattern of results suggested similarities for Christians and Muslims. Overall, the authors concluded that the results offered support for a common core of mystical unity. The Christians in Study two were from a variety of groups. Most were Baptist (38.8%) followed by 11.2 % each for Catholic and Methodist. An unknown group were noted as “other” (25.5 %).

Here’s how the eight groupings were linked to the three factors (See Figure 1, page 695).

Introvertive = Unity + Timelessness / Spacelessness + ineffability

Extrovertive = Unity in diversity + inner subjectivity

Interpretative = Noetic + Holiness religion + Positive affect

Additional Notes

There are other scales measuring mysticism.

Although I did not report other studies in this post, mysticism has been studied among adherents of the world's major religions as well as mystical experiences not associated with any religion.


Hood, R. W. (1975). Construction and preliminary validation of a measure of reported mystical experience. Journal for The Scientific Study of Religion, 14(1), 29-41.

Hood, R. J., Ghorbani, N., Watson, P. J., Ghramaleki, A. F., Bing, M. N., Davison, H. K., & ... Williamson, W. P. (2001). Dimensions of the Mysticism Scale: Confirming the three-factor structure in the United States and Iran. Journal for The Scientific Study of Religion, 40(4), 691-705. doi:10.1111/0021-8294.00085


I write about Psychology and Religion or Spirituality. Here's my recent book.

A House Divided