Gratitude for Better or Worse: Differential Predictors and Affective Outcomes of State Gratitude in Positive and Negative Contexts

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Adam P McGuire
Thane M Erickson
Christina M Quach
Brittany Willey


Whereas past studies primarily examined state-level gratitude measured across long periods of time and in the context of positive events, this study assessed situational predictors of state gratitude and its affective outcomes in the context of specific positive and negative naturalistic events. Across seven weeks, 147 undergraduates recorded best and worst weekly events, depressive symptoms, as well as gratitude and positive affect (PA) anchored to those events. Independent raters coded events as dependent or independent of participants’ agency and interpersonal or noninterpersonal. Multilevel models showed there was a significant interaction between agency and interpersonal status for positive events, and simple effects tests indicated participants reported higher levels of gratitude for independent-interpersonal events compared to other potential event types. Unexpectedly, participants also reported higher gratitude for dependent events if they were interpersonal in nature. Negative event-anchored state gratitude was also higher for interpersonal events as indicated by a significant main effect. Lastly, within-person variability in event-anchored state gratitude was associated with higher state PA following both best and worst events, but only state gratitude anchored to best events was related to lower weekly depressive symptoms. Overall, results demonstrated that naturally occurring state gratitude for specific events was differentially impacted by situational factors, and that within-person variability in gratitude following both positive and negative events is related to positive affective outcomes.

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