August 7, 2012 | David F. Coppedge

Can Gratitude Be Studied Scientifically?

Some psychologists say gratitude improves one’s well being.  But is that a subject for science?

According to a report on Science Daily, “Growing Up Grateful Gives Teens Multiple Mental Health Benefits.”  According to a psychologist from University of California, “Increases in gratitude over a four-year period were significantly related to improvements in life satisfaction, happiness, positive attitudes and hope.

For the study, 700 students aged 10 to 14 answered questionnaires, then 4 years later, were surveyed again.  Those categorized as “most grateful” were judged by the researchers as having 13 to 17% more purpose in life, more satisfaction with “life overall,” more happiness and hopefulness, less delinquency, and fewer negative attitudes.

The researchers defined “gratefulness” as “having a disposition and moods that enabled them to respond positively to the good people and things in their lives.”  The New York based sample contained a mix of ethnic backgrounds, with 54% girls and (presumably) the rest boys.  The lead researcher, Dr. Giacomo Bono, made sweeping conclusions:

“These findings suggest that gratitude may be strongly linked with life-skills such as cooperation, purpose, creativity and persistence and, as such, gratitude is vital resource that parents, teachers and others who work with young people should help youth build up as they grow up,” Bono said. “More gratitude may be precisely what our society needs to raise a generation that is ready to make a difference in the world.

Dr. Bono’s definitions of these qualities are not found in the article, nor is his view on what kind off difference in the world is good to make.

Much as you might like to agree with these conclusions, this is another example of useless research done by modern psychopriests trying to justify their existence.  Who are psychologists to tell people about gratitude?  They can’t even define the word.  It’s “the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful,” not a positive disposition.  What do they mean by positive?  Are we talking about electricity, protons versus electrons?  No; gratitude is inextricably bound up with thankfulness.  Thankfulness needs an object: you are thankful to someone who is deserving of appreciation for what they done for you – your parents, your teachers, your God.  It does no good to walk around with positive vibes aimed at nothing; you have to humble yourself and honor the subject of your gratitude with true, heartfelt appreciation.  Can science measure that?

In addition, the so-called “science” of psychology lacks the precision expected of science.  How did Dr. Bono calibrate his gratitudometer?  What are the units of happiness?  The research summary is loaded with glittering generalities: ambiguous words like purpose (did not the Colorado killer have a purpose?), creativity (was he not creative as the Joker?), persistence (did he not persist in booby-trapping his apartment?).  All of these touchy-feely words are meaningless without their object: purpose for, creative about, persistence toward.  If the object of the word is evil, the quality becomes an accomplice to evil.  Wouldn’t you rather confront a robber who lacked purpose, creativity and persistence?  As for “ready to make a difference in the world,” Genghis Khan and Saddam Hussein were well qualified.  Science cannot make value judgements when pursuing quantifiable qualities.

Another fault is that this study subliminally suggests that parents, teachers, and others who influence teenagers should teach them to be selfish.  How?  The conclusion stressed the personal rewards that the teen will receive from behaving a certain way: have a positive attitude “so that” you can have better health and happiness.  Needless to say, true gratitude is not concerned with self.  Gratitude should be encouraged because it is right, not because it provides health benefits.  Teach teens right ways as a matter of duty, whether or not it makes them happy.  When they learn to love righteousness, humility and thankfulness, any personal happiness they encounter will be fringe benefits; but teens need to be forewarned that doing right is often accompanied by suffering, rejection or strife.  Do right because it’s right.

This shows that psychology is as useful to science as a foghorn to an orchestra.  Some psychologists can perform valid work in limited areas that are observable, testable, and repeatable, like learning theory (e.g., what is the best method for memorizing), but even then, the conclusions are often fuzzy and fungible.  You could learn memorization and the other things probably just as well from your parents or grandparents who have honed their conclusions in the furnace of real life experience, not by answering questionnaires from quacks.  When psychopseudoscience tries to raise its voice about moral qualities and values like gratitude and happiness, well; one thing is clear: you’ll enjoy the concert better without the foghorn.

So do your duty: invite a psychologist to church, where he/she can learn all about the proper objects of gratitude, purpose, creativity, and persistence.  If the psychologist repents and gives up his/her pretensions, you have gained your brother/sister.


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Categories: Dumb Ideas

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