Shallow Gratitude

By Christi Chidester | June 1, 2007 | 0 comments

In an issue of the journal Granta earlier this year, editor Ian Jack railed against a new trend in the literary world: the tendency of young American writers to burden their books with excessively long acknowledgments sections, thanking everyone from their agents to their friends to the baristas at their local cafés. This is all a bit much for Jack.

“Why should the writer imagine we care about any of them?” he writes. “Might it be that he thinks his work is so brilliant that its worth needs some explanation?”

Jack contrasts these American writers with their British counterparts, as well as their American predecessors, who offer short, simple, and even cryptic words of thanks, such as “To H.J.” So what are we to make of these very different displays of gratitude?

One answer is suggested by a 1995 study of gratitude. The researchers asked participants to write about two events in their lives, a major success and a major failure. Half of the subjects were told to write their names on every page of the response sheets and to be prepared to share their stories with six to eight other participants. The other group was instructed to leave their names off the responses and was told their responses would be kept completely confidential.

The major difference between the two groups came in their success stories: Those who expected to share their stories were significantly more likely to mention how other people had contributed to their accomplishments.

The researchers, Roy Baumeister and Stacey Ilko, describe this phenomenon as “shallow gratitude,” speculating that the subjects may not have truly believed that the other people deserved their recognition but felt social pressure to cite their help.

“Had they really felt strongly grateful for the others’ help,” they write, “these acknowledgements would presumably have shown up in their private accounts as well.”

So is today’s literary gratitude actually quite shallow? One way to find out could be to start pulling original manuscripts off writers’ computers and out of their desk drawers. If Baumeister and Ilko’s findings are any indication, we may find that while published acknowledgements go on for pages, first drafts may be thankless.

Tracker Pixel for Entry
 
 
 

Greater Good wants to know:
Do you think this article will influence your opinions or behavior?

  • Very Likely

  • Likely

  • Unlikely

  • Very Unlikely

  • Not sure

 
  

Like this article?

Here's what you can do:

Donate
 
  
 
blog comments powered by Disqus
 

Most...

  
  

Greater Good Events

The Greater Good Science Center Summer Institute for Educators 2017
Clark Kerr Campus, UC-Berkeley
Sunday, June 25 - Friday, June 30, 2017 OR Sunday, July 16 - Friday, July 21, 2017


The Greater Good Science Center Summer Institute for Educators 2017

The GGSC’s six-day Summer Institute equips education professionals with prosocial learning strategies, tools and processes that benefit both students and teachers.


» ALL EVENTS
 
 

Take a Greater Good Quiz!

How compassionate are you? How generous, grateful, or forgiving? Find out!

» TAKE A QUIZ
 

Watch Greater Good Videos

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Talks by inspiring speakers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dacher Keltner, and Barbara Fredrickson.

Watch
 

Greater Good Resources

 
 
» MORE STUDIES
 
 
» MORE ORGS
 

Book of the Week

How Pleasure Works By Paul Bloom Bloom explores a broad range of human pleasures from food to sex to religion to music. Bloom argues that human pleasure is not purely an instinctive, superficial, sensory reaction; it has a hidden depth and complexity.

» READ MORE
 
Is she flirting with you? Take the quiz and find out.
"It is a great good and a great gift, this Greater Good. I bow to you for your efforts to bring these uplifting and illuminating expressions of humanity, grounded in good science, to the attention of us all."  
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Best-selling author and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program

thnx advertisement