The Psychology Behind Giving Thanks

Date: 2005-11-23

The Psychology Behind Giving Thanks

Interview With Dr. Paul Vitz

ARLINGTON, Virginia, NOV. 23, 2005 ( The spirit of thanksgiving contributes to mental health and ultimately leads to God, says a Catholic psychologist.

Dr. Paul Vitz is a professor of psychology at the Arlington-based Institute for the Psychological Sciences and a professor emeritus of New York University. He has authored many books, and is co-editor of a new book called “The Self: Beyond the Post-modern Crisis” (ISI, 2006).

Q: As strands of modern psychology are rediscovering the effectiveness of the virtues in the well-being of the person, what interest has there been in the virtue of gratitude?

Vitz: Psychology has discovered gratitude as something to investigate probably only in the last five or 10 years. The best summary of what has been found is in the book that just came out this year and is called “The Handbook of Positive Psychology.” In this book, Chapter 33 is a summary of what is known about gratitude.

The authors, R. Emmons and C. Shelton, point out that there has been some popular interest in gratitude in the last five or 10 years, but relatively little serious research in psychology.

So if some psychologist wants to become Mr. Gratitude or Ms. Gratitude, it is one of those fields that are sitting there, ready to be looked at seriously.

Q: What is it about gratitude that makes it such a useful virtue?

Vitz: Gratitude is a very positive virtue. It has positive thoughts associated with it, and above all, positive emotions.

It’s the emotion of thankfulness for what other people, or God, have given to you. It brings peace, and it brings a kind of quiet joy. I think it’s very clear that those are good emotions, good things to have.

We now know that our emotions can also cause bodily changes in us, so I’m convinced that gratitude is not only a positive thought and mentality, but also something good for your body. Read more

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