InspirationScienceSocial Media

Why We’ll All Be Grateful If This Effort Goes Spiral

In this day and age, where social media dominates so much, we often measure successful outreach as something going viral.

But maybe there’s another measure we ought to start paying attention to: something going spiral.

That’s a term being introduced in connection with a website, ElementofGratitude.org, and which is part of a newly launched initiative of the John Templeton Foundation to encourage people to actively share messages, photos and videos with others — called  “Gratitude Grams” — about the things for which they are grateful.

According to the foundation, the goal “is to start a chain reaction across the internet, an online manifestation of the gratitude spiral.”  In other words, if one person tells someone else what they’re grateful or thankful about  — family, job or friends, for example — the hope is the person who hears a message of gratitude will similarly express their thanks to others — so on and so on.

The underlying purpose of this work draws on scientific studies about the positive effects of gratitude on individuals and societies, which manifests itself in ways such as:

  • Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure;
  • Higher levels of positive emotions;
  • More joy, optimism, and happiness;
  • Acting with more generosity and compassion;
  • Feeling less lonely and isolated.

Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and one of the leading researchers on this topic, says that “gratitude is more than a pleasant feeling; it is also motivating.” Emmons says that gratitude “serves as a key link between receiving and giving: It moves recipients to share and increase the very good they have received. Because so much of human life is about giving, receiving, and repaying, gratitude is a pivotal concept for our social interactions.” He notes that the famed sociologist Georg Simmel declared “that gratitude is ‘the moral memory of mankind.’ If every grateful action, he went on to say, were suddenly eliminated, society would crumble.” He adds that gratitude is a practice worth promoting because of how it can help strengthen “social ties” and cultivate “an individual’s sense of interconnectedness.”

Beyond the Templeton Foundation’s own ElementofGratitude.org, it is also funding organizations and researchers, such as Emmons, who are trying to build more scientific understanding of the role of gratitude in society.  Among the goals of the research and related activities are to:

  • Expand the scientific database of gratitude, particularly in the key areas of human health, personal and relational well-being, and developmental science;
  • Promote evidence-based practices of gratitude in medical, educational, and organizational settings and in schools, workplaces, homes and communities, and in so doing…
  • Engage the public in a larger cultural conversation about the role of gratitude in civil society.

So, are you grateful knowing all this about the promise and power and gratitude? If so, try practicing yourself and send someone a Gratitude Gram. “The Gratitude Gram is a fun and easy way to activate gratitude,” says Clio Mallin, communications specialist for the Templeton Foundation. “Challenge yourself, friends, and family to do that visually and socially by sending gratitude grams and inspire others to join the gratitude movement.” Mailin adds that messages can also be posted on the site’s Gratitude Wall to showcase all the gratitude being shared.

Go ahead and do it. You may be the trigger that makes this effort go spiral.

Posted on December 30, 2014

Bruce Trachtenberg
Bruce Trachtenberg is executive producer and editor for The Atlantic Philanthropies. He previously served as executive editor for frank and before that as executive director of the Communications Network.