The Character Strength Of Gratitude

November 24, 2010

I’ve written before about the power of expressing gratitude, but on this day before Thanksgiving I wanted to see if I could learn more about it from a different source. Gratitude is listed as one of the strengths of transcendence in Chris Peterson and Martin Seligman’s book Character Strengths and Virtues. As a strength of transcendence, gratitude connects us to others and helps provide meaning to our lives. Here is how they define gratitude:

Gratitude is a sense of thankfulness and joy in response to receiving a gift, whether the gift be a tangible benefit from a specific other or a moment of peaceful bliss evoked by natural beauty. The word gratitude is derived from the Latin gratia meaning “grace”, “graciousness,” or “gratefulness.” All derivatives from this Latin root “have to do with the kindness, generousness, gifts, the beauty of giving and receiving, or getting something for nothing” (Pruyser, 1976, p. 69). Prototypically, gratitude stems from the perception that one has benefited due to the actions of another person. There is an acknowledgment that one has received a gift and an appreciation of and recognition of the value of that gift. It would be unusual to say that one is grateful to oneself. (p. 554).

I really like the idea that the ability to give to others without expecting anything in return is a character strength. Graciousness is transformational both for those that give and those that receive. Those void of grace never experience the fullness of a life lived beyond transactional relationship with others.

Someone with a strong grateful disposition experiences gratitude with intensity and frequency. They feel grateful for numerous things (e.g. family, friends, job, and health) at any given time. For any given positive outcome or life circumstance, those with a strong grateful disposition can find numerous people (e.g. parents, co-workers, mentors, and role models) to feel grateful for.

How grateful are you? Here are six questions psychologists use to measure gratitude (McCullogh et al., 2002).

1.     I have so much in life to be thankful for

2.     If I had to list everything I felt grateful for, it would be a very long list

3.     When I look at the world, I don’t see much to be grateful for (reverse scored)

4.     I am grateful to a wide variety of people

5.     As I get older I find myself more able to appreciate the people, events, and situations that have been part of my life history

6.     Long amounts of time can go by before I feel grateful to something or someone (reverse scored)

Make an intentional choice to be more gracious and grateful toward others today, and every day from now on. Be grateful for the fact that you have the ability to continuously improve your strength of character.

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Comments (6)

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  1. Susan Mazza says:

    Enjoyed your exploration of gratitude Bret. This statement left me thinking…”Those void of grace never experience the fullness of a life lived beyond transactional relationship with others.”

    We focus a lot of attention on the importance of appreciation to a successful and satisfying work environment. Perhaps we should be paying a lot more attention to gratitude as well.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    My best bosses have been very gracious to me and others. I wish I could learn to behave in ways that merit gratitude from others while at the same time training myself to never need or expect it in return. Thanks for sharing, Susan! Bret

  2. Hi Bret,

    I’ve kept that gratitude journal that we often hear about for several years. It sits next to my bed and encourages me to find 5 things I’m grateful for before I turn out the lights. It has been a life changer for me and for some of my clients who have picked up this habit.

    At first, it was hard to find five things (or people) every day. Eventually, I had a hard time stopping at five. Now it is part of my day. I find that I am intentionally noticing, in the moment, the things that I am grateful for. I guess you could say that I am grateful for gratitude.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Great example, MJ, of how being happy and living well in general is a discipline. We really can learn to be better people. I’ve never kept a journal so I appreciate you sharing this example. Thanks! Bret

  3. Now I wish I hadn’t called it a journal. Journal sounds like a lot of work, and when I’ve called that, people often get the impression that it will take a lot of time and a lot of self examination. Not true. Listing five things you are grateful for (for most people) takes less than 2 minutes. It’s one of the rare things you can “practice” in a short period of time daily and notice results in your life quite quickly.

    So lets just call it a “very quick (but meaningful) gratitude list”. P.S. If I didn’t believe that there were certain “practices” we could do regularly that help people to be better people (or leaders to be better leaders), I wouldn’t have chosen the profession I’m in. I’m grateful to observe such transformations (big and small) daily.

    Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving Bret!

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    I did not take journal to be a bad thing, MJ! But what you are doing does take dedication and persistence. Those are also character strengths. Thanks! Bret