Positive psychology is a new branch within psychology and here to stay. The last decades researchers became more and more interested in positive emotions and positive health. In this area I became fascinated in the value of state and trait gratitude for mental health.
Gratitude can be seen as a state or a trait. State gratitude is an emotion based on the ability to be empathic, resulting from both appraising a received benefit as a positive outcome as well as recognizing that this positive outcome stems from an external source, and this emotion promotes reciprocity and pro-social behaviour (Bartlett & DeSteno, 2006; Lazarus & Lazarus, 1996; Tsang, 2006; Wood, Maltby, Stewart, Linley, & Joseph, 2008).
Gratitude as a trait can be viewed as a wider life orientation towards noticing and being grateful for the positive in the world. Paying attention with gratitude to anything in the world and not just a beneficiary makes the individual more likely to show more personal, social, and pro-social behaviour (Wood, Froh, & Geraghty, 2010).
In 2011, dr. Machteld Huber proposed a new definition of health: Health as the ability to adapt and to self-manage, in the face of social, physical and emotional challenges, i.e. positive health (Huber et al., 2011). This definition represents a broader view on health and well-being. Research shows that positive health is composed of six dimensions: bodily functions, mental well-being, meaning in life, quality of life, social and societal participation, and daily functioning (Huber et al., 2016).
As a scientist I am researching state and trait gratitude associated with mental health as part of my PhD program at the Open University in the Netherlands. My first project was translating and validating two questionnaires to measure trait gratitude in Dutch individuals. This validation study was published in Psychologica Belgica. With one of these questionnaires, I conducted a 7.5 month longitudinal study to assess the association between trait gratitude, psychological distress, and subjective well-being. This article is submitted and awaiting approval. In the mean time, I am working on a review of articles describing longitudinal or experimental studies regarding state and trait gratitude and the pillars of positive health. The next article will be all about assessing state gratitude and mental health using Experience Sampling Method, for which currently data is collected by students of the Open University. With my work I try to get gratitude on the agenda for practitioners in mental health as well as for everybody who is interested in this virtue and wants to reap the benefits from being grateful by giving lectures and posting blogs and messages about gratitude on social media and other websites such as Open Science.
Bartlett, M. Y., & DeSteno, D. (2006). Gratitude and prosocial behavior helping when it costs you. Psychological science, 17(4), 319-325.
Huber, M., Knottnerus, J. A., Green, L., Horst, H. v. d., Jadad, A. R., Kromhout, D., . . . Smid, H. (2011). How should we define health? BMJ, 343. doi:10.1136/bmj.d4163
Huber, M., van Vliet, M., Giezenberg, M., Winkens, B., Heerkens, Y., Dagnelie, P. C., & Knottnerus, J. A. (2016). Towards a ‘patient-centred’ operationalisation of the new dynamic concept of health: a mixed methods study. BMJ Open, 6(1). doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2015-010091
Lazarus, R. S., & Lazarus, B. N. (1996). Passion and reason: Making sense of our emotions: Oxford University Press, USA.
Tsang, J.-A. (2006). Gratitude and prosocial behaviour: An experimental test of gratitude. Cognition & Emotion, 20(1), 138-148.
Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. A. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(7), 890-905. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2010.03.005
Wood, A. M., Maltby, J., Stewart, N., Linley, P. A., & Joseph, S. (2008). A social-cognitive model of trait and state levels of gratitude. Emotion, 8(2), 281-290. doi:10.1037/1528-35184.108.40.2061