Gratitude is Growing Despite Crises: Gracianna/UC Davis Study Finds Good News

(Davis, CA/Healdsburg, CA) Americans are optimistic about what the future holds for them despite living in a global pandemic and grappling with worrisome financial, relationship, health and leadership concerns.

According to a new study conducted by UC Davis and Gracianna Winery of Sonoma County, people in the United States predict they will emerge from the Coronavirus crisis with more to be grateful for. The study aimed to investigate respondent’s feelings, thoughts, and attitudes regarding gratitude, now and in the future.

Over 56% of respondents reported being very grateful in general, whereas only 39% of people reported being very hopeful (the second highest-rated positive emotion after gratitude). Indeed, almost 30% more people reported being very grateful than the average positive emotion such as happy, thankful, and hopeful.

In an adjacent finding, 69% expect to feel very grateful in the future. In fact, their feelings about the future are more positive than negative, signaling that they expect to be less stressed and worried in the future.

“As stressful as the pandemic has been on all facets of our ‘typical’ lives, people can still see a future where they feel more grateful for those elements in their lives that they yearn for now,” Dr. Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at University of California, Davis, said in a statement. “The pandemic has reminded us all that our mental and physical health is a top driver of what allows us to appreciate everything else we cherish, our loves, our exercise, even the food we eat and the wine we drink.”

Referencing prior studies conducted after significant catastrophes, Philip Watkins of Eastern Washington University, renowned gratitude researcher and study collaborator says that, “in the face of crises and during troubling times people rely on positive feelings to cope, and they seem to turn to gratitude more than any other positive emotion.”

Researchers found three significant gratitude-related areas of perceived changes in the self during this period: that we “are more grateful for the positive aspects of our lives;” “have a greater understanding each day that we are alive;” and “have a better sense of what is important to me.”  Of all the positive emotions, gratitude was the strongest predictor of these changes, e.g., the more grateful people were, the more they reported these positive self-changes. This is important because people can increase their levels of gratitude with simple practices such as journaling, and gratitude then opens the door to seeing other positive life changes and personal growth.

Nationwide, however, worries linger even after life begins the long road back to normalcy after prolonged shelter-in-place orders. The new study reveals that 62% felt their self-confidence had not grown significantly while only a mere 17% reported having significant increased trust in their public institutions, researchers said.

Yet respondents overwhelmingly embraced gratitude as their most salient emotional state, with feelings of at least moderate gratitude endorsed by 75% of the sample. Indeed, even though people said they felt quite thankful at present, over 51% of respondents who had potential for gratitude growth said they expect to feel more gratitude in the future.

“This does not surprise us,” said Trini Amador, Sr., partner at study co-sponsor Gracianna Winery in Sonoma County, “since our wine is for those with something to be grateful for. We wanted to better understand exactly what it is that people most appreciate during these times. And do they anticipate feeling more to be thankful for in the future? We found that the answer is a resounding ‘yes!’”

Of the respondents that the UC Davis/Gracianna Winery study surveyed, gratitude was the strongest predictor of positive changes in the self. “It means that gratitude is playing a unique role as a core emotional feeling versus happy, sad, angry, etc. —gratitude is not just helping people feel good—it has a unique potential allowing people to see positive changes in themselves,” said lead researcher Emmons, “Being happy, optimistic, or hopeful are secondary predictors of growth whereas being grateful is the primary driver of this positive change.”

Watkins added, “Overall there is optimism for the future, even though we could see very rough times ahead.” Researchers found respondents seeing positive emotions ahead such as joy, hope and calm and feeling that all negative emotions will diminish even though 56% felt stressed and worried, 28% irritable and 28% felt disconnected from others.

“Being grateful,” Amador continued, “was strongly linked to beliefs that ‘access to food and drink has reminded me of the infrastructure that I depend on for my existence;’ ‘I take more time to appreciate food and wine;’ and that ‘I am finding drinking wine enhances other experiences more than it did before.’ This finding tells us something deep down clicked, that not only were we were reminded of the larger network we are a part of but how we must savor the everyday moments of grace when we are able to host a meal with family or friends.”

The study team will repeat the survey in six to nine months to measure the longer-term effects of the crises on emotional health. Emmons was pleased with the results.

“Considering the stress of working from home, home-schooling, online meetings, food deliveries and all the trappings of getting through a worldwide pandemic knowing that we are feeling grateful today and see more coming in the future is hopeful,” he said. “The study shows us that despite the worst, resilience reigns.”

The ability to understand that one can be grateful for three to four months from now is helpful to employers, retailers, public policy makers and even personal relationships, Emmons reveals. “We know that gratitude has a powerful impact on how heathy we feel, and now we learn that the capacity to envision a grateful future—regardless of current circumstances—may be a major reason why gratitude heals and energizes lives.”

The poll was conducted from May 10 to May 17, 2020 with 532 adults in the U.S.

Trini Amador, Sr., of Gracianna Winery summed it up by saying, “We know that living gratefully in the moment allows us to transcend even the worst of times and finding that individual inner peace is what our wines stand for.”