The Power of Workplace Gratitude: A Brief Bibliography

November 21, 2013 Darcy Jacobsen

Being thanked feels fantastic. It turns out, so does the act of thanking people! Gratitude carries with it a whole host of health and psychological benefits. It makes us better workers and it makes us better people.

As a follow up to our recent webinar on the Science of Gratitude, I’ve pulled together a little bibliography of the studies we presented, with links to some of the amazing scholarship happening around gratitude and its impact not only on us as individuals but also on our organizations and their business results.



Gratefulness Increases Emotional Well-Being – A 2007 study published in the Journal of Research in Personality found that “gratitude is uniquely important to well-being and social life.” That study showed a relationship between gratitude and well-being that was independent of personality factors (extraversion, neuroticism, openness to experience, conscientiousness, or agreeableness), and proved that over time gratitude leads to lower stress and depression and higher levels of social support.  Work by researchers at UCDavis shows that “grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress.”

Grateful People Get Along Better with Others – A paper published in 2009 in the Clinical Psychology Review by researchers from Hofstra and several UK universities claims that people who express gratitude are more extroverted, agreeable, open, conscientious, and less neurotic. “Grateful people had higher openness to their feeling, ideas, and values (associated with humanistic conceptions of well-being, and greater competence, dutifulness, and achievement striving.)”

Grateful People Are More Resilient to Trauma – Studies of Vietnam War veterans have shown that gratitude is significant in helping people maintain emotional well-being after traumatic life experiences.

Grateful People Sleep Better – A 2012 study from a group of Chinese researchers looked at the combined effects of gratitude and sleep quality on symptoms of anxiety and depression.  They found that higher levels of gratitude were associated with better sleep, and with lower anxiety and depression. Those results were echoed in a study by the University of Manchester.

Grateful People Are Physically Healthier – At the University of Connecticut, researchers found that gratitude has a protective effect against heart attacks. According to expert Robert Emmons of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, it also strengthens the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces symptoms of illness, increases resistance to pain, correlates with better exercise habits, and encourages us to take better care of our health. A study of organ recipients, scholars from UC Davis and the Mississippi University for Women found that patients who keep journals of their appreciation scored better on measures of mental health, general health and vitality than those who keep only routine notes about their days.

Grateful People Are Less Depressed – Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, University of Rhode Island and University of Michigan tried a number of different interventions believed to increase happiness.  This included things like recording memories and writing down personal strengths. In one, participants were given one week to write and then deliver a letter of gratitude in person to someone who had been especially kind to them but had never been properly thanked.  Participants in that intervention showed the largest positive changes in the whole study. This boost in happiness and decrease in depressive symptoms was maintained at follow-up assessment one week and one month. The authors of the study called for therapists to employ gratitude as a clinical tool, saying: “giving people the skills to increase their gratitude may be as beneficial as such cognitive behavioral life skills as challenging negative beliefs .”


Grateful People Pay It Forward – In a 2006 study conducted at Northeastern University, researchers actually sabotaged participant’s computers and then as the subjects were struggling with making them work, they had a “helpful observer” jump in to help some of them. Afterward, the subjects who had been helped were more likely to volunteer to help someone else with an unrelated, and time-intensive, task. In this study, gratitude was shown to be far more powerful than simply inducing a good mood, which was the alternative intervention.

Grateful People Achieve More – A study by researchers from the University of California asked subjects to keep a daily journal of things they were grateful for. Two other groups kept journals of daily annoyances or general daily observations. Those assigned to keep the gratitude journals showed significant increases in determination, attention, enthusiasm and energy, when compared to the two other groups. Likewise, in a study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, researchers surveyed 1,035 high-school students and found that the most grateful had more friends and higher GPAs. Even athletes benefit from gratitude, according to a study from Taiwan, which found that gratitude was a predictor for team satisfaction and life satisfaction and helped to protect against athlete burnout.

Grateful People are Better Corporate Citizens – A 2007 study in the Journal of Business Ethics looked at white collar workers and found a positive relationship between gratitude and corporate social responsibility. That study’s authors said that “employees with stronger hope and gratitude were found to have a greater sense of responsibility toward employee and societal issues”

Grateful People are Less Likely to Burn Out – A 2010 study found an inverse relationship between dispositional gratitude and workplace burnout in teachers in China. Additional research by Bennett, Ross and Sunderland (1996) found that when patients and managers provided gratitude and recognition to employees who worked in career roles for HIV/AIDS patients, it buffered those employees from burnout.

Grateful People are More MoralA 2001 study found that gratitude is used as a “moral motive” – because it encourages  pro-social behavior and discourages disruptive behavior. Three studies cited showed that those who felt gratitude were more likely to help others.


Giving Makes People Happier – A study in 2009  at Harvard Business School found that: “Happier people give more and giving makes people happier, such that happiness and giving may operate in a positive feedback loop (with happier people giving more, getting happier, and giving even more).”

Opportunity to Give Increases Commitment to a Company – Wharton School professor Adam Grant did a study of a Fortune 500 company that allowed employees to contribute to an employee beneficiary fund. Grant discovered that it was not the beneficiaries who had the most significant increase in their commitment to the company; it was the donors who had an increase in their affective commitment.

Givers are More Engaged – In the most recent Globoforce Workforce Mood Tracker study, we looked at the difference between employees who were given an opportunity to recognize their co-workers in the last year and those who didn’t have that chance. We found that those who had been empowered to give recognition were more than twice as engaged.

I hope you enjoy this list and it helps you in making a case for the critical role of gratitude in the workplace. (A word of acknowledgement: some of these studies I first found on Amit Amin’s blog on this same topic, where he lists a few of the same studies and more. Check that out here.)

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