Gratitude is more than just a passive reaction, it is not simply a cultural construct, it is an intrinsic part of our being! Gratitude serves more than one purpose. We use gratitude to express appreciation, admiration and approval!
The first and most obvious reason for gratitude is appreciation. We know that gratitude is often our reaction to someone else's act of kindness. In more scientific terms, Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough define gratitude as a two-step process: 1) "recognizing that one has obtained a positive outcome" and 2) "recognizing that there is an external source for this positive outcome."
When someone has helped us in a moment of difficulty, we feel the urge to show our appreciation by expressing gratitude. Gratitude is a positive emotional response. It is essentially synonymous with appreciation. When we create a grateful environment, appreciation becomes reciprocal. We become kinder and look for opportunities of gratitude.
It's not just humans who demonstrate appreciative behaviour. Animals as diverse as fish, birds, and vampire bats engage in "reciprocal altruism" activities.
These are behaviours that one animal performs to help another member of their species, even at a cost to themselves, presumably because they recognise at some instinctual level that the other individual may repay the favour at a later date.
Studies have found that chimpanzees are more likely to share food with a chimpanzee that had groomed them earlier in the day and are more likely to help another chimpanzee with a task if that chimpanzee had helped them in the past. Sharing is a form of gratitude at its very base level.
We use gratitude to express admiration too. This form of gratitude often goes further than thanking someone for their individual acts of kindness. We often feel admiration for a group of people like nurses, doctors and firefighters because we acknowledge their ongoing sacrifices, the lengths that they go to, keeping us safe and putting themselves at risk.
We also use gratitude to show approval. When we want to show that the actions of others are good. This can be particularly effective in the workplace where we can encourage our staff or our colleagues to achieve more by showing gratitude. Gratitude also validates their behaviour and makes their actions more justified and makes them become even better!
Gratitude helps us to focus and pay attention to the positive things in life. By encouraging active listening, we pay attention if someone is showing us gratitude. This can help us to create an environment of positivity where everyone feels wanted, appreciated, admired, and their actions are validated and acknowledged!