Feeling Grateful for the Benefits of Life, No Matter the Source

Published: 4 April 2022| Version 1 | DOI: 10.17632/s936yz6s9y.1
Peter Kearns,


Sometimes people feel interpersonal gratitude toward other people and other times feel impersonally grateful toward non-human sources of benefits, enjoyed over time. Scant work has explored the processes associated with gratitude that people feel for benefits, which have no apparent human source, and are enjoyed continuously over time. The present study offers an initial treatment of impersonal gratitude. Across one pilot test and four studies, N = 1459 total participants were sampled. Study 1 demonstrates prompts highlighting water’s value increase gratitude for water. Study 2 investigates how reminders of the uncertainty of a benefit might reduce taking that benefit for granted. Study 2 showed that those who received information about the uncertainty of water resources were more grateful when covariation in trait level gratitude was controlled. Study 3 replicates the effect of certainty on gratitude, showing those who read about the low certainty of water were more grateful for water than those who read about the high certainty of water. Furthermore study 3 showed that gratitude for water predicts behaviors aimed at protecting water resources. Finally, study 4 examines the mechanisms that may link certainty to gratitude, showing that certain resources are more valued and appreciated, but that certain resources are also used more habitually, and that such habituation can also diminish gratitude. Overall, the present study expands theory and research concerning gratitude by investigating an understudied context for gratitude and suggesting that gratitude may serve general adaptive purposes, by responding to the value or uncertainty of a resource and encouraging behavior to protect such important or threatened resources.



Vassar College, Purdue University


Psychology, Social Psychology