How Culture Shapes Our Gratitude

If you’re trying to become happier, you’ve probably heard the advice to practice gratitude. “Gratitude is literally one of the few things that can measurably change people’s lives,” writes pioneering researcher Robert Emmons in his book Thanks! His studies suggest that gratitude can improve our health and relationships—making it one of the most well-studied and effective ways to increase our well-being in life.

But there’s a problem with prescribing gratitude to everyone: Most of what we know about it comes from studying Americans—and, specifically, the mainly white American college students from the campuses where researchers work. That creates a cultural bias in the science, and that’s why more and more researchers are exploring what gratitude looks and feels like in a range of cultures.

They are studying how children and adults worldwide naturally say thank you, and whether we can teach them to enhance their gratitude skills. The findings tell us something about a fundamental human experience—appreciating the kind things that other people do for us—and they offer insights into how we can spread gratitude around a diverse world.

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