When we launched our online gratitude journal Thnx4.org, we expected to collect solid data on the impact of gratitude. And gratitude research to date does predict that asking users to say “thnx” everyday would make them happier and healthier. But after analyzing the first results from Thnx4.org, we’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover such immediate, positive results.
In the two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, the Greater Good Science Center launched a pilot version of Thnx4.org with funding from the John Templeton Foundation. Each day Thnx4.org asks people what they’ve been thankful for (e.g., the actions of another person, a material possession, a metaphysical concept like freedom) and how often they’ve felt grateful, and it offers the possibility of sharing “thnx!” via email or social media channels like Facebook and Twitter.
During the process, Thnx4.org also captures the emotional tenor of their day—and for this beta release, asked them to complete key surveys before and after two weeks of daily use. The surveys were included to evaluate the impact of Thnx4.org on qualities of life like happiness, emotional resilience, and satisfaction with life.
What did we learn?
For starters, across all the 1,600 people that used Thnx4.org, the greater the number of gratitude experiences reported on a given day, the more positively they rated that day on a one-to-seven scale, terrible to terrific. Days with more gratitude featured more positive (e.g. happy, inspired, loving) and fewer negative (e.g. sad, bored, discouraged) emotions. People expressing thanks to other people (instead of to things) were 150 percent more likely to say “this made my whole day glorious,” when asked how strongly this gratitude had impacted their day. When people thought others had put great effort into benefitting them (as opposed to minimal effort), the positive impact on their day was significantly stronger.
We analyzed the before and after survey responses of those who succeeded in completing daily gratitude entries every day for 14 days (roughly 90 percent skipped a day or two).
This group showed statistically significant increases in gratitude (as measured by McCullough & Emmon’s GQ-6 Gratitude Questionnaire). This group also showed significantly increased happiness (measured by Lyubormirsky’s four-item Subjective Happiness Scale), greater satisfaction with life (Diener’s six-item SWL survey), and higher resilience to stress (Smith’s six-item BRS survey)—suggesting that two weeks of daily gratitude journaling on Thnx4.org boosts a range of psychological qualities associated with well-being. And physically, this group reported fewer headaches, and less congestion, stomach pain, and cough or sore throat after using Thnx4.org. According to this evaluation survey data, Thnx4.org yields measurable physical and mental health benefits to participants.
Results from Sheldon Cohen’s 10-item Perceived Stress Scale—a survey which asks questions like, “In the last month, how often have you felt difficulties were piling up so high that you could not overcome them?” or, “In the last month, how often have you felt confident about your ability to handle your personal problems?”—were less clear cut. Scores computed from all 10 questions showed a slight increase in perceived stress after using Thnx4. Was this result a function of the time of year—workload and deadlines going into the final days before Thanksgiving break and heading into the Christmas season? An alternate scoring procedure, looking at responses to only four questions, showed a more robust decrease in perceived stress. Is there something unique about how the four questions relate to gratitude? Were people overwhelmed by 10 questions but inclined to respond to four questions more authentically?
This kind of finding asks for further inquiry into the relationship between perceived stress and gratitude practice, which we—and our faculty and student collaborators—intend to pursue!