Some people just don’t seem to appreciate what they’ve got. There’s the guy who takes his family for granted, the kids who feel entitled to expensive toys and a life of privilege. On the other hand, there are people who appreciate even the smallest good fortune. Almost by definition, appreciative people seem more satisfied with their lives. But are they really happier?
They are indeed, according to recent research published in the Journal of Personality by psychologists Mitchel Adler and Nancy Fagley. The authors define appreciation as “acknowledging the value and meaning of something—an event, a person, a behavior, an object—and feeling a positive emotional connection to it.” In an initial small-scale study, Adler and Fagley obtained concrete examples of times their subjects felt appreciative. This enabled them to identify and measure eight distinct aspects of appreciation in a larger study, and then correlate subjects’ appreciation levels with their psychological well-being. They found that appreciation improves a person’s mood and makes her feel more connected to whatever it was she appreciated in the first place, whether it’s appreciation for friends and family or a sense of awe and wonderment at the nature of existence.
But is being appreciative a state, which can be cultivated, or a trait, which you are more or less born with? As with most emotions, Adler and Fagley believe that appreciation has both state and trait qualities. That means that while feeling appreciative may come more naturally to some people, others can learn to be more appreciative.
Indeed, Adler and Fagley found that people who focused on, and felt thankful for, what they had rather than what they did not were the ones most likely to feel positive emotions and life satisfaction. You’ll be a happier person, suggest Adler and Fagley, if you make an effort every day to appreciate all you have, instead of all you want.
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About The Author
Christine Carter, Ph.D. is a Senior Fellow at the Greater Good Science Center. She is the author of The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work (Ballantine Books, 2015) and Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents (Random House, 2010). A former director of the GGSC, she served for many years as author of its parenting blog, Raising Happiness.