This report presents and compares previous studies on the link between subjective well-being and gratitude. Researches found that expression of gratitude increases SWB that further has a positive influence on biological functions. The report is also dedicated to the in-class experiment that used the SWLS scale to measure gratitude and hassles’ impact. Two groups of students formed in a randomized manner were asked to list 5 hassles/gratitudes and fill the SWLS questionnaire. The experiment ultimately confirmed the hypothesis that participants in the gratitude condition would have a higher life satisfaction rating compared to those in the hassles condition. The further study should be longitudinal and include more self-identified males to improve accuracy.
Subjective well-being (SWB) is a model that describes how people experience their life. Most studies agree on the notion that SWB has a significant effect on biological functions; thus, it may have a health-protective role. SWB encompasses evaluative well-being (life satisfaction), hedonic well-being (moods or feelings), and eudemonic well-being (autonomy and purpose of life) (Jackowska et al., 2016). It has a significant association with more prolonged and happier lives due to positive effects on biological function. For instance, Jackowska et al. (2016) report that high levels of SWB are correlated with lower stress, smaller blood and inflammatory responses to acute stressors, and higher optimism that reduces cortisol.
Different methods to influence SWB, such as expressing gratitude and positive thinking, have been compared by a range of studies. The controlled trial conducted by Miller and Duncan (2015) hypothesized that gratitude intervention is more superior to happiness intervention in terms of self-reported well-being. Participants were divided into three groups: two intervention groups and one control group. Video instructions and study note-pads were used to guide participants and gather their insights. The controlled group underwent pre and post-intervention well-being measures. The findings reveal that there is no significant difference between concentrating on gratitude and happiness. However, both conditions were found to improve SWB compared to the controlled group since it reduces negative emotions.
The study of Jackowska et al.(2016) predicted that brief gratitude intervention would result in greater SWB due to lower blood pressure and lower cortisol compared to the control group. The single-blind randomized experiment involved 119 women divided into three groups: 41 to the everyday-event condition, 40 to the gratitude condition, and rest to the non-treatment group condition. All groups were measured at the beginning and received their writing assignments. The post-intervention psychological assessment and collection of completed questionaries ended the intervention. The findings revealed that gratitude intervention is associated with emotional distress reduction, decreased diastolic BP, higher hedonic SWB, and improved sleep quality. Due to healthier biological function, SWB may contribute to lower mortality and morbidity.
Another research held by Unanue et al. (2019) required two longitudinal studies to test the reciprocal link between life satisfaction and gratitude. A three-wave cross-lagged longitudinal design was used in both studies to collect data from Chilean working adults. Both studies confirmed the hypothesis that both constructs positively affect each other and the participants’ overall quality of life. Interestingly, the study revealed that women are more prone to experience life satisfaction, whereas older participants showed higher gratitude and satisfaction levels.
Accordingly, we conducted an experiment to test if blessings/gratitude intervention leads to higher SWB than hassles/life events condition. The goal was to confirm or question Emmons and McCullugh’s (2003) findings, who carried out a similar study. We predicted that people who list blessings are expected to be happier and more optimistic than those who report their hassles and life events. For this experiment, the independent variable was a type of life event. For the dependent variable, we have chosen life satisfaction that was further measured. The experiment tested two conditions: gratitude/blessings and hassles/life events.
Participants were 57 individuals out of a total of 69 students enrolled in the class. Their mean age was 21.8; 14% self-identified themselves as males, 1.8% as non-binary, and 1.8% did not disclose their age. On the contrary, females constituted the majority accounting for 82.5%. Involved students had been randomly distributed into two condition groups. The graduate condition included 27 participants with an average age of 20.67. Within the gratitude condition, 74.7% were females, 18.52% represented males, non-binary participants accounted for 3.07%, and another 3.07% were not disclosed. The hassles condition involved 30 participants aged 22.90 (standard deviation of 5.53). This group included 10% of self-identified males and 90% self-identified females.
Gratitude is a positive feeling of appreciation that every person can experience when thinking about previous life events and outcomes stemming from their decisions. On the contrary, hassles condition is thinking about various challenges and bothering things that occur in every domain of one’s life, including workplace, school, family, health, and relationships. The SWLS consisting of five simple items was used to measure cognitive judgments of satisfaction with involved individuals’ lives. For instance, one of the statements is, “So far, I have gotten the important things in my life” (Diener et al., 1985). Participants had to rate every statement from 1 Strongly disagree to 7 Strongly agree and identify their gender and age.
The ideal total score is 35, 20 is neutral, whereas lower numbers identify dissatisfaction. In the beginning, all students had a chance to decide if they want to participate due to ethical considerations. Those who expressed their consent were assigned into two condition groups. Students of the hassles condition received a task to list 5 hassles, whereas those in the gratitude condition had to deliver 5 events of the past week they were grateful for. Then both groups completed the SWLS scale that was later reviewed and calculated for every participant. To avoid targeted behavior, the participants were not aware of the experiment’s hypothesis.
Our experiment confirmed the hypothesis since participants of the gratitude condition managed to express a higher life satisfaction rate than those included in the hassles condition. Figure 1 below summarizes the mean results of SWLS for two groups. The gratitude condition’s mean SWLS was 25.48 (standard deviation of 5.37), whereas the mean SWLS for the hassles condition was 21.6 (standard deviation of 6.24). Thus, expressing gratitude is more effective in comparison to life events (hassles) reporting.
The experiment confirmed and supported the majority of previously conducted studies. The SWLS scale was applied to measure participants’ SWB, and its results may be generalized to other college students. Our results are in line with the first study held by Emmonse and McCullough (2003) that also found a higher satisfaction with life among participants of gratitude conditions compared to hassles and events conditions. Nevertheless, our mean results seem to indicate a more significant difference between both conditions. Previous studies reported a positive effect of gratitude on psychological distress and life satisfaction. This study was limited in that participants were involved in the one-time intervention. It is essential to conduct longitudinal studies with more intense intervention to receive reliable results. However, its main strength was the randomized assignment into groups together with limited informing before the experiment. This approach helped to avoid systemic differences between the groups and facilitate unbiased responses. Further research should increase the number of self-identified males since there is a significant difference between college and class gender statistics. Despite several limitations, this experiment proved that the gratitude condition elevates the mood and encourages optimism.
Diener, E. D., Emmons, R. A., Larsen, R. J., & Griffin, S. (1985). The satisfaction with life scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49(1), 71-75.
Emmonse, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-389.
Jackowska, M., Brown, J., Ronaldson, A., & Steptoe, A. (2016). The impact of a brief gratitude intervention on subjective well-being, biology and sleep. Journal of Health Psychology, 21(10), 2207-2217.
Miller, R. W., & Duncan, E. (2015). A pilot randomized controlled trial comparing two positive psychology interventions for their capacity to increase subjective well-being. Counselling Psychology Review, 30(3), 36-46.
Unanue, W., Gomez Mella, M. E., Cortez, D. A., Bravo, D., Araya-Véliz, C., Unanue, J., & Van Den Broeck, A. (2019). The reciprocal relationship between gratitude and life satisfaction: evidence from two longitudinal field studies. Frontiers in Psychology, 10(1), 1-14.