Book Reviews

Book Review: The Gratitude Project

The Gratitude Project, edited by Jeremy Adam Smith et al., is a project of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley in California. It includes chapters by a number of different authors on various aspects of gratitude.

I liked that the book took a realistic approach to what gratitude can and can not do. Take this quote from the beginning of the book, for example:

“First, gratitude is an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received. This doesn’t mean that life is perfect; it doesn’t ignore complaints, burdens, and hassles. But when we look at life as a whole, gratitude encourages us to identify some amount of goodness in our life. It’s easy to miss the good, because we simply get used to it.”

The book explains that secondly, gratitude involves identifying the sources outside of ourselves that have provided us with goodness.

Research has shown that animals can experience some form of gratitude. In humans, the capacity for gratitude first starts to develop around 3 years old. On average, women tend to be more grateful than men. The more gratitude is practiced, the greater the value that the brain places on benefit to others rather than the self. Keeping a gratitude journal was identified as a good way to develop more gratitude.

Gratitude may have positive health effects by decreasing inflammation. One study found that depression can cause structural changes in the same area of the brain as what’s activated when experiencing gratitude. The book doesn’t suggest that gratitude is the psychological cure for depression, though. The authors explain that “Practicing gratitude magnifies positive feelings more than it reduces negative feelings.” That sounds quite reasonable.

Studies were discussed that have shown that gratitude improves commitment to a significant other, and also commitment to working on the relationship. The book also said that “gratitude thrives on specificity, so it’s best to be specific when expressing gratitude for something that someone has done. If one partner is contributing a lot more work around the home, the other partner is likely to start to expect it, and then they’re less likely to experience gratitude for the partner’s contribution.

The last few chapters were based on interviews with Buddhist author Jack Kornfield, comedian W. Kamau Bell, and others.

There was definitely some interesting information in this book. Overall, though, it was packed with a lot of information and research findings, and I found it a bit much, even though the research studies were explained clearly. Then again, I was struggling with depression-related concentration problems while reading it. I think it would make a good book for anyone who was looking to gain a deeper understanding of gratitude and the science behind it.

The Gratitude Project is available on Amazon.

I received a reviewer copy from the publisher through Netgalley.

You can find my other book reviews here.

book cover: Managing the Depression Puzzle by Ashley L. Peterson

Managing the Depression Puzzle takes a holistic look at the different potential pieces that might fit into your unique depression puzzle. It’s available on Amazon and other online retailers, as well as the MH@H Store.

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25 thoughts on “Book Review: The Gratitude Project”

  1. I am grateful for your blog as it inspires me and keeps me going. It’s a wonderful to have something to read every day. It even keeps me a bit structured. Thanks for all your work Ashley!

  2. This post was good for me to read. I have a real problem with gratitude when I am depressed and it is all or nothing, black or white thinking. Now I am going in the opposite direction and it is hard to slow down and be happy for what I have but I am trying.

  3. Ooo I quite like the sound of this. I’m a believer in the power of gratitude, but not as a cure-all. “The book doesn’t suggest that gratitude is the psychological cure for depression” < that's the part I'd find particularly appealing, the more realistic and reasonable approach rather than suggesting gratitude alone will 'fix' depression and cure pain and all the other miraculous but untrue things some books like to suggest. Neat review, Ashley.xx

  4. Good insights about gratitude. I liked the more realistic approach. We talk about gratitude a lot in AA, and it sometimes feels very cliché, like advising people to suppress negative emotions and just thank the good Lord. However, gratitude lists have really helped me. It’s very easy to lose track of everyday things that are actually pretty great.

  5. Sounds like a useful project, as gratitude is both relative and also useful, whether one believes in a deity or not. Having a sense of awe about something on a regular basis has long been known to increase resilience and determination. Thank you for this post!

  6. Great review! I’m grateful that you read and nicely synthesized the key information from the book into this post, even though the book was challenging!
    I’ve listened to some episodes of the Greater Good Science Center’s “Science of Happiness” podcast and thought they were pretty good. They have an episode about how to give good/effective apologies, which changed my life!

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