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Michael Josephson is a noted radio commentator and the founder of the nonprofit Josephson Institute of Ethics and CHARACTER COUNTS!. A decade’s worth of research on gratitude has shown me that when life is going well, gratitude allows us to celebrate and magnify the goodness. This essay is adapted from Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity My response is that not only will a grateful attitude help—it is essential. But being grateful is a choice, a prevailing attitude that endures and is relatively immune to the gains and losses that flow in and out of our lives. Trials and suffering can actually refine and deepen gratefulness if we allow them to show us not to take things for granted.
So crisis can make us more grateful—but research says gratitude also helps us cope with crisis.
It works this way: Think of the worst times in your life, your sorrows, your losses, your sadness—and then remember that here you are, able to remember them, that you made it through the worst times of your life, you got through the trauma, you got through the trial, you endured the temptation, you survived the bad relationship, you’re making your way out of the dark.
This process of remembering how difficult life used to be and how far we have come sets up an explicit contrast that is fertile ground for gratefulness.
To say that gratitude is a helpful strategy to handle hurt feelings does not mean that we should try to ignore or deny suffering and pain. The GGSC's coverage of gratitude is sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation as part of our Expanding Gratitude project. So telling people simply to buck up, count their blessings, and remember how much they still have to be grateful for can certainly do much harm. Researchers asked the third group to focus on the positive aspects of a difficult experience—and discover what about it might now make them feel grateful.
Some years ago, I asked people with debilitating physical illnesses to compose a narrative concerning a time when they felt a deep sense of gratitude to someone or for something. As it turned out, most respondents had trouble settling on a specific instance—they simply had so much in their lives that they were grateful for. It was evident from reading these narrative accounts that (1) gratitude can be an overwhelmingly intense feeling, (2) gratitude for gifts that others easily overlook most can be the most powerful and frequent form of thankfulness, and (3) gratitude can be chosen in spite of one’s situation or circumstances. If you are troubled by an open memory or a past unpleasant experience, you might consider trying to reframe how you think about it using the language of thankfulness. Can I find ways to be thankful for what happened to me now even though I was not at the time it happened?
Has the experience removed a personal obstacle that previously prevented me from feeling grateful?
Remember, your goal is not to relive the experience but rather to get a new perspective on it.
In an adaptation from his new book, Dacher Keltner explains the secret to gaining and keeping power: focus on the good of others. In a Q&A, neuroscientist Ron Dahl explains how parents can help younger teens avoid depression and anxiety as they become more independent. A Q&A with Kendall Bronk about instilling purpose in teens—and the emerging research showing why it's so important. Meditation is helping police officers to de-escalate volatile situations, improve community relations—and improve their own well-being. Finds that feeling gratitude produces kind and helpful behavior, even when that behavior is costly to the individual actor. Become a member of the Greater Good Science Center to enjoy exclusive articles, videos, discounts, and other special benefits.


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Your responses will form the basis of a report to be published soon by Josephson Institute. In fact, it is precisely under crisis conditions when we have the most to gain by a grateful perspective on life. When disaster strikes, gratitude provides a perspective from which we can view life in its entirety and not be overwhelmed by temporary circumstances. Well, when times are good, people take prosperity for granted and begin to believe that they are invulnerable. Consciously cultivating an attitude of gratitude builds up a sort of psychological immune system that can cushion us when we fall.
Our minds think in terms of counterfactuals—mental comparisons we make between the way things are and how things might have been different. In a recent study, researchers asked participants to imagine a scenario where they are trapped in a burning high rise, overcome by smoke, and killed. As the German theologian and Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “Gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.” We know that gratitude enhances happiness, but why? The field of positive psychology has at times been criticized for failing to acknowledge the value of negative emotions. In a study conducted at Eastern Washington University, participants were randomly assigned to one of three writing groups that would recall and report on an unpleasant open memory—a loss, a betrayal, victimization, or some other personally upsetting experience. Results showed that they demonstrated more closure and less unpleasant emotional impact than participants who just wrote about the experience without being prompted to see ways it might be redeemed with gratitude.
I asked them to let themselves re-create that experience in their minds so that they could feel the emotions as if they had transported themselves back in time to the event itself. I was struck by the profound depth of feeling that they conveyed in their essays, and by the apparent life-transforming power of gratitude in many of their lives.
I was also struck by the redemptive twist that occurred in nearly half of these narratives: out of something bad (suffering, adversity, affliction) came something good (new life or new opportunities) for which the person felt profoundly grateful.
The unpleasant experiences in our lives don’t have to be of the traumatic variety in order for us to gratefully benefit from them. Have my negative feelings about the experience limited or prevented my ability to feel gratitude in the time since it occurred?
For more reasons why to practice gratitude, check out this infographic created by Here’s My Chance.
ZakA look at the hormone oxytocin's role in trust and how that may be the basis of a well-functioning economic system.
In the midst of the economic maelstrom that has gripped our country, I have often been asked if people can—or even should—feel grateful under such dire circumstances. The first Thanksgiving took place after nearly half the pilgrims died from a rough winter and year. In times of uncertainty, though, people realize how powerless they are to control their own destiny. There is scientific evidence that grateful people are more resilient to stress, whether minor everyday hassles or major personal upheavals. Contrasting the present with negative times in the past can make us feel happier (or at least less unhappy) and enhance our overall sense of well-being. This resulted in a substantial increase in gratitude levels, as researchers discovered when they compared this group to two control conditions who were not compelled to imagine their own deaths.


Gratitude maximizes happiness in multiple ways, and one reason is that it helps us reframe memories of unpleasant events in a way that decreases their unpleasant emotional impact. Barbara Held of Bowdoin College in Maine, for example, contends that positive psychology has been too negative about negativity and too positive about positivity. Participants were never told not to think about the negative aspects of the experience or to deny or ignore the pain. I also had them reflect on what they felt in that situation and how they expressed those feelings. He is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and the founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology.
No one “feels” grateful that he or she has lost a job or a home or good health or has taken a devastating hit on his or her retirement portfolio.
Feelings follow from the way we look at the world, thoughts we have about the way things are, the way things should be, and the distance between these two points.
It became a national holiday in 1863 in the middle of the Civil War and was moved to its current date in the 1930s following the Depression. If you begin to see that everything you have, everything you have counted on, may be taken away, it becomes much harder to take it for granted. The contrast between suffering and redemption serves as the basis for one of my tips for practicing gratitude: remember the bad. This implies that grateful coping entails looking for positive consequences of negative events.
To deny that life has its share of disappointments, frustrations, losses, hurts, setbacks, and sadness would be unrealistic and untenable.
Instead, it means realizing the power you have to transform an obstacle into an opportunity.
Moreover, participants who found reasons to be grateful demonstrated fewer intrusive memories, such as wondering why it happened, whether it could have been prevented, or if they believed they caused it to happen.
In the face of progressive diseases, people often find life extremely challenging, painful, and frustrating.
For example, grateful coping might involve seeing how a stressful event has shaped who we are today and has prompted us to reevaluate what is really important in life. It means reframing a loss into a potential gain, recasting negativity into positive channels for gratitude.
Thinking gratefully, this study showed, can help heal troubling memories and in a sense redeem them—a result echoed in many other studies. I wondered whether it would even be possible for them to find anything to be grateful about.
No amount of writing about the event will help unless you are able to take a fresh, redemptive perspective on it.
How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier and the new Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity, from which this essay is adapted. The point is not to ignore or forget the past but to develop a fruitful frame of reference in the present from which to view experiences and events.



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