Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell

Sources – Dissatisfaction

We would like to thank the following experts for their scientific support:

  • Robert Emmons

PhD, Professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis

Founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology

Author: The Little Book of Gratitude. Create a life of happiness and wellbeing by giving thanks.

  • Dr. Liz Gulliford

MBPsS, BSc (Hons), MA, MPhil, PhD, FHEA

Senior Lecturer in Psychology

University of Northampton

  • Tony Manela

Assistant Professor of Philosophy



– Overview

#The Science of Gratitude, 2018


– The field of positive psychology emerged, the study of what makes life worth living.

Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes a life, a "good life". Or they explore the aspects of the human experience that make life worth living. For individuals or for society.

#Positive psychology in practice, 2008


Quote: “The term "positive psychology" is a broad one, encompassing a variety of techniques that encourage people to identify and further develop their own positive emotions, experiences, and character traits. In many ways, positive psychology builds on key tenets of humanistic psychology.”

– An antidote against dissatisfaction so to speak: Gratitude.

#Gratitude, retrieved 2019


#Gratitude uniquely predicts satisfaction with life: Incremental validity above the domains and facets of the five factor model, 2008


Quote: ”Gratitude and SWL [Satisfaction With Life] were correlated at r = .45 (p < .001), replicating earlier findings (Wood et al., 2007a), and suggesting that gratitude can explain 20% of individual differences in SWL.”

– The predecessor of gratitude is likely reciprocity. It likely evolved as a biological signal that motivates animals to exchange things for their mutual benefit.

What is the difference between reciprocity and gratitude? Reciprocity is the act of giving and returning itself, while gratitude is the emotion we feel while exchanging gifts of favours. Just because there is a beneficial exchange, doesn’t mean you necessarily feel grateful.

#Upstream reciprocity and the evolution of gratitude, 2006


Quote: “Our models are psychologically plausible. Experiments with human subjects demonstrate that gratitude, which is the positive emotion one feels after having received something of value, fosters prosocial behaviour (Carlson et al. 1988; Emmons & McCullough 2004; Bartlett & DeSteno 2006): the recipient of a favour is more likely to help both the donor (direct reciprocity) and a stranger (upstream reciprocity). Thus, gratitude may be the key to understanding upstream reciprocity.“

#The evolution of reciprocal altruism, 1971


– Reciprocity can be found in the animal kingdom among certain fish, birds or mammals, but especially in primates.

For example in the form of partners that watch over the brood together. Taking turns in watching over the brood makes this beneficial for both partners. Both can feed and rest and still protect their brood successfully.

#Coordinated vigilance provides evidence for direct reciprocity in coral reef fishes, 2015


Quote: ”The IPD and several other game-theoretical models have subsequently provided frameworks for the evaluation of reciprocity in animals and throughout the last few decades, the presence of reciprocity has been suggested in fishes, birds and mammals.”

– When your brain recognizes that someone did something nice for you, it reacts with gratitude to motivate you to repay them.

#Is Gratitude a Moral Affect?, 2001


Quote: “According to Smith, gratitude is one of the primary motivations of benevolent behaviour toward a benefactor. “The sentiment which most immediately and directly prompts us to reward, is gratitude” (p.68). When a benefactor has brought good fortune on a beneficiary, gratitude prompts the beneficiary to find ways to acknowledge the gift.”

– This was important, because as human brains got better at reading emotions, selfish individuals got identified and shunned.

Being isolated was as good as a death sentence for our ancestors. An environment full of dangers was easier to overcome as a group, like gathering food or defending against enemies. If you want to learn more about this, you can watch our video about “Loneliness”.

#Evolutionary Mechanisms for Loneliness, 2014


Quote: “We have proposed that the awareness of loneliness evolved to serve as a signal that one’s connections to others are frayed or broken and to motivate the repair and maintenance of the connections to others that are needed for our health and well being as well as for the survival of our genes (Cacioppo et al., 2006)”

– So early forms of gratitude were biological mechanisms that modified your behavior towards cooperation which helped humans to dominate Earth.

This is a very simple equation. If you do something nice for someone, they will be more willing to help you in return. This is a key element of cooperation and teamwork.

Cooperation is a very important tool for survival and can be found in species that made it to our modern era: penguins, which keep each other warm in snowstorms, ants with their amazing construction abilities and humans, which conquered the entirety of Earth.

#Cooperation: The roles of interpersonal value and gratitude, 2017


Quote: “Taken together, our findings point to the possibility that cooperative behavior might operate via internal estimates of welfare valuation, and that gratitude signals benefit reception and the intent to engage in a cooperative relationship.”

#Upstream reciprocity and the evolution of gratitude, 2006


Quote: "Our analysis shows that gratitude and other positive emotions, which increase the willingness to help others, can evolve in the competitive world of natural selection."

– Scientists found that gratitude stimulates the pathways in your brain involved in feelings of reward, forming social bonds and interpreting others’ intentions.

#The Relationship Between Gratitude and Loneliness: The Potential Benefits of Gratitude for Promoting Social Bonds, 2015


Quote:With regard to our research aim, gratitude seems to work as an influential moderator of loneliness feelings, accounting for up to almost one-fifth of its variability, thus suggesting the potential benefits of gratitude for promoting social bonds.”

#The Cultivation of Pure Altruism via Gratitude: A Functional MRI Study of Change with Gratitude Practice, 2017


– It also makes it easier to save and retrieve positive memories.

#Grateful recounting enhances subjective well-being: The importance of grateful processing, 2014


Quote: ”Results from this study provide some support for this theory. Those who were in the gratitude treatment reliably recalled more positive events from the past week than those in the comparison treatments.”

– Even more: Gratitude directly counteracts negative feelings and traits, like envy and social comparison, narcissism, cynicism and materialism.

Envy, narcissism, cynicism and materialism:

#Thieves of Thankfulness: Traits that inhibit gratitude, 2016


Quote: “Our results suggested that narcissism and cynicism were the strongest inhibitors of gratitude. Both of our self-esteem corrected measures of narcissism predicted declines in the frequency of grateful emotion. Cynicism also predicted significant decreases in gratitude over time. Both materialism and envy showed evidence of inhibiting grateful emotion, but these relationships appeared to be somewhat weaker.”


#Looking for happiness in all the wrong places: The moderating role of gratitude and affect in the materialism–life satisfaction relationship, 2015


Quote: “However, our data suggest that gratitude – and to a lesser extent, positive affect – can buffer these negative effects of materialism. Individuals high in gratitude showed less of a relationship between materialism and negative affect.”


This study is looking at two different types of envy though: benign envy, which motivates us to achieve something and malicious envy, which is a driver for revenge. Gratitude seems to foster benign envy, while it mitigates malicious envy.

#Effect of Gratitude on Benign and Malicious Envy: The Mediating Role of Social Support, 2018


Quote 1: “For example, benign envy elicits individual self-elevating motivation, while malicious envy leads to the tendency of slander or revenge against others”

Quote 2: “The result revealed that gratitude could predict benign envy positively and malicious envy negatively. Furthermore, the indirect effect of gratitude on the two types of envy via social support was significant.“

– People who are grateful, no matter what for, tend to be more happy and satisfied.

#Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life, 2003


Quote: ”As in Study 1, participants in the gratitude condition reported considerably more satisfaction with their lives as a whole, felt more optimism about the upcoming week, and felt more connected with others than did participants in the control condition (see Table 5). Therefore, it appears that participation in the gratitude condition led to substantial and consistent improvements in people’s assessments of the global well-being.”

– Grateful people have better relationships, an easier time making friends.

#Witnessing excellence in action: the ‘other-praising’ emotions of elevation, gratitude, and admiration, 2008


#Beyond Reciprocity: Gratitude and Relationships in Everyday Life, 2008


Quote: ”These data provide the first evidence that the emotion of gratitude is associated with relationship formation.”

– Grateful people sleep better, tend to suffer less from depression, addiction and burnout and are better at dealing with traumatic events.


#The Science of Gratitude, 2018


#Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions, 2009


Quote: “Gratitude predicted greater subjective sleep quality and sleep duration, and less sleep latency and daytime dysfunction. The relationship between gratitude and each of the sleep variables was mediated by more positive pre-sleep cognitions and less negative pre-sleep cognitions. All of the results were independent of the effect of the Big Five personality traits (including neuroticism) and social desirability.”

#Gratitude and depressive symptoms: The role of positive reframing and positive emotion, 2012


#The differential effects of gratitude and sleep on psychological distress in patients with chronic pain, 2013


Quote: “Results of multiple regression analyses yielded a modest mediating effect for sleep on the gratitude-depression link whereas a stronger mediating effect was found for sleep on the gratitude-anxiety link.”

#Does gratitude promote recovery from substance misuse?, 2016


Quote: ”Gratitude enables the individual to develop the personal arsenal of strengths necessary to conduct a sober and productive life. The Narcotic Anonymous (NA) program has adopted gratitude as a key component of recovery and urges members to practice gratitude on a daily basis on their journey toward successful recovery.”

#Burnout and life satisfaction: does gratitude intervention make a difference among Chinese school teachers in Hong Kong?, 2011


Quote: “This study investigated the effectiveness of a gratitude intervention programme in promoting life satisfaction and reducing burnout symptoms. [...] Increases in life satisfaction and the sense of personal accomplishment and decreases in emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation were observed in the post-intervention assessment.”

#Gratitude and PTSD symptoms among Israeli youth exposed to missile attacks: examining the mediation of positive and negative affect and life satisfaction, 2014


Quote: “Our study suggests that gratitude may serve as a protective factor primarily through cognitive appraisal processes tied to greater appreciation of life in a way that distinguishes it from other positive emotions.”

– Gratitude measurably counters the tendency to forget and downplay positive events.

Gratitude counterbalances our “negativity bias”, our tendency to focus on negative events for the sake of protecting ourselves from danger.

#A study of gratitude and well being among adolescents, 2012


#Grateful recounting enhances subjective well-being: The importance of grateful processing, 2014


Quote: ”We also found that the gratitude treatment enhanced the accessibility of positive memories compared to the comparison treatments. Our results suggest that exercises like the gratitude 3-blessings treatment may train cognitive biases that are salubrious to subjective well-being.”

– If you feel grateful for your relationships instead, you might accept invitations or even take the initiative.

#The Relationship Between Gratitude and Loneliness: The Potential Benefits of Gratitude for Promoting Social Bonds, 2015


Quote: “Expressing gratitude thus plays an important role in relationships because it can strengthen social bonds and friendships (Emmons & Shelton, 2002; McCullough & Tsang, 2004), as well as the characteristics needed for their development and maintenance (Algoe, Haidt, & Gable, 2008; Gordon, Arnette, & Smith, 2011; Kubacka, Finkenauer, Rusbult, & Keijsers, 2011; McCullough, Kimeldorf, & Cohen, 2008) [...]”

– In the best case gratitude can trigger a feedback loop: Positive feelings lead to more pro social behaviour, which leads to more positive social experiences

#What triggers prosocial effort? A positive feedback loop between positive activities, kindness, and well-being, 2016


Quote 1:Across two studies, we found evidence that a recursive cycle of happiness and kindness can be triggered experimentally by the administration of a simple, brief positive activity.”

Quote 2:Indeed, recent theory suggests that a single, well-timed psychological intervention can trigger a cascade of positive and durable outcomes by creating one positive event upon which others can build through recursive processes (Walton, 2014).”

–You have what’s known as trait gratitude, that determines how much you are able to feel it.

#Evidence for a relationship between trait gratitude and prosocial behaviour, 2017


Quote: “In addition to this experimental work, others have investigated trait gratitude, that is, the dispositional tendency towards experiencing life events in ways that induce gratitude.”

#The Grateful Disposition: A Conceptual and Empirical Topography, 2002


Clues that the ability to feel gratitude is connected to our DNA:

#Why Is Gratitude So Hard for Some People?, 2018


Original study:

#Genetic and environmental influences on the positive traits of the values in action classification, and biometric covariance with normal personality, 2007


Quote:Our findings extend Rutter’s argument further into the domain of positive traits and confirm the broader biological argument that “all psychological traits are heritable” (Bouchard, 2004 (p.148)).”

– It depends on your genetics, personality and culture.

#A longitudinal experimental study comparing the effectiveness of happiness-enhancing strategies in Anglo Americans and Asian Americans


Quote: “These results are consistent with the idea that the value individualist cultures place on self-improvement and personal agency bolsters the efforts of Anglo Americans to become more satisfied, whereas collectivist cultures’ de-emphasis of self-focus and individual goals interferes with the efforts of Asian Americans to pursue enhanced well-being.”

#The Science of Gratitude, 2018


#Expressions of Gratitude in Children and Adolescents: Insights From China and the United States, 2015


– Let’s start with important caveats: It is not yet entirely clear to what degree gratitude can be trained or how long the effects last.

#Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life, 2003


Quote: ”We believe that we have established a rather easily implemented strategy for improving one’s level of well-being. We do not know how long these effects last and whether they can be sustained over time.”

#The Effects of Counting Blessings on Subjective Well-Being: A Gratitude Intervention in a Spanish Sample, 2013


– Gratitude should also not be seen as solution to depression or a substitute for professional help.

Gratitude is a wonderful way to improve your mental wellbeing. But if you feel like you are depressed, you should get professional help. In all the studies gratitude is described as something that can mitigate the symptoms of depression, but it’s not a cure.

There is no shame in getting help. Our minds can be as vulnerable as our bodies. So getting advice from a professional therapist on how to take good care of our mental wellbeing is just as necessary as seeing a doctor when we get sick.

#Depression, 2019


#Overview - Clinical depression


If you or someone you know is in a difficult situation or even shows signs of suicidal thoughts, please call or text a suicide prevention hotline. We linked a list here:

#List of suicide crisis lines, 2019


If your country isn’t listed here, you can search on the internet for “suicide prevention + (insert your country here)”. If still nothing appears, please call your local emergency number. They will know who you can turn to.

– The easiest gratitude exercise, with the most solid research behind it is gratitude journaling.

#Gratitude Journal, retrieved 2019


#The Science of Gratitude, 2018


#Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life, 2003


#Positive Psychology and Gratitude Interventions: A Randomized Clinical Trial, 2019


Quote: “Participants assigned to the intervention condition were asked to write daily gratitude lists for 14 days, listing moments they had been grateful for during the day. [...] The gratitude intervention managed to increase positive affect, subjective happiness and life satisfaction, and reduce negative affect and depression symptoms. This change was greater than the changes in the control groups in relation to positive affect.”

– But in numerous studies, the participants reported more happiness and a higher general life satisfaction after doing this practice for a few weeks.

#Positive Psychology and Gratitude Interventions: A Randomized Clinical Trial, 2019


#The Cultivation of Pure Altruism via Gratitude: A Functional MRI Study of Change with Gratitude Practice, 2017


#Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life, 2003


Quote: “As in Study 1, the gratitude manipulation affected subjective life appraisals. As in Study 2, the gratitude manipulation appeared to create increases in positive affect, as well as reductions in negative affect. Once again, mediational analyses showed that gratitude was uniquely responsible for the effect of the intervention on positive affect.”

– And even more, studies have found changes in brain activity, some months after they ended.

And with some months we mean up to three months, which is pretty neat for something as simple as writing stuff down on paper.

#The effects of gratitude expression on neural activity, 2015


Quote: ”[S]ubjects who participated in gratitude letter writing showed both behavioral increases in gratitude and significantly greater neural modulation by gratitude in the medial prefrontal cortex three months later.”

Further reading:

– Gratitude journaling could be good for your physical health.

#Pilot Randomized Study of a Gratitude Journaling Intervention on Heart Rate Variability and Inflammatory Biomarkers in Patients With Stage B Heart Failure, 2016