There is no question that gratitude is good for you. There is significant scientific literature showing that people who feel gratitude are less likely to be depressed and worried, and more likely to feel satisfied with their lives.
In recent years, social science researchers have hypothesized that gratitude is good for society as a whole, as well. Researchers from the University of Nottingham in England set out to answer the question, Are people who practice gratitude more likely to help others, share, volunteer and donate?
Their findings are published in the June issue of Psychological Bulletin. They began by searching the scientific literature for quantitative studies that measured the relationship between gratitude and prosociality, or behaviors that help others. In total, they found 91 studies with more than 18,000 participants. Then the researchers analyzed data from all of the studies to draw some conclusions about gratitude and positive behaviors.
Here’s what they found:
What does all of this mean? Research shows that gratitude is part of the psychological foundation that prompts us to “give back” in many ways. It encourages us to return favors to our friends, neighbors and family members. And gratitude inspires us to help others in society as a whole.
But it’s not clear how much gratitude is required to inspire giving back, explained Anthony Ong, a psychologist at Cornell University.
“It remains to be seen what is the optimal level of gratitude or how frequently and intensely gratitude exercises, such as counting blessings and making ‘thank you notes’ should be undertaken to bolster prosociality,” he said.
“Along the same lines, it will be important for future research to explore whether the relation between gratitude and prosociality is nonlinear; that is, more gratitude may not always be better and may turn out to have well-being costs to the individual when experienced at high levels.”