Good News: Gratefulness Still Most Prevalent Emotion

Americans Feeling Optimistic About the Future

DAVIS, Calif., and HEALDSBURG, Calif., Oct. 12, 2021 — Americans are optimistic about what the future holds for them despite living in a global pandemic and grappling with uncertain financial, relationship, health and political concerns. However, even in the spring of 2021, people were still reporting significantly more gratitude than any other positive emotion.

According to the second wave of a landmark study on gratitude conducted by UC Davis and Gracianna Winery, in the spring of 2021—as in the spring of 2020—people in the US were still reporting significantly more gratitude than any other positive emotion; however, compared to the spring of 2020, people’s sense of gratitude declined by 8% while calmness declined by 6%, both greater declines than other positive emotions such as happiness and joyfulness which actually trended up slightly. Researchers agree that this decline in gratitude is likely attributable to such factors as pandemic fatigue, social unrest, and a divisive election, among other societal dynamics. Importantly study authors point out there was no significant change in negative emotions over the year.

When asked about their current emotional state, respondents in 2021 indicate they strongly feel positive emotions such as gratitude/thankfulness (87% of respondents), as well as feeling happy (85%) and optimistic (75%).

Researchers summarize that pandemic fatigue is likely wearing heavily on Americans. Participants report that they now feel less grateful, possibly because they are essentially in the same position as they were in 2020, having to deal with the effects of the pandemic on a day-to-day basis.

The second wave study reveals that people reported significantly more worry/stress than any other negative emotion in both surveys. Philip Watkins of Eastern Washington University, study collaborator says that, “given the nature of the pandemic, it is not surprising to find that worries remain, though interestingly negative emotions stayed relatively unchanged between 2020 and 2021.”

When polled about to whom they felt grateful for the possibility of getting a vaccine, respondents are overwhelmingly more likely to be grateful to health professionals (85%), followed by science/pharmaceutical companies (76%), with a steep drop to President Biden (35%), God (26%), and finally former President Trump (14%). Respondents attributed the development and distribution of the vaccine mostly to healthcare providers (60% were “very responsible.”)

“We are happy to see that gratefulness is still the leading positive emotion by far,” said Trini Amador, III, Partner of study co-sponsor Gracianna Winery, “It is important to remind folks that gratefulness is still a healthy driver of optimism as the pandemic drags on.”

The study team repeated the survey from 2020 to measure the longer-term effects of the crises on emotional health. UC Davis, Professor of Psychology and initial study co-author Robert Emmons noted that “The outcome of this follow-up survey supports the idea that even as Americans grapple with overarching concerns such as the uncertainty about an end to the COVID pandemic and the worries about economic, racial and political divides permeating society, as a whole we value gratitude more than any other positive emotion,” Emmons says. “The notion that gratitude has declined overall correlates to the anxiety we have collectively about when our lives will return to ‘normal’ and when and if we can address the tough challenges posed by a divided public and our collective future.”