Study: Gratitude Inspires Hope and Boosts Well-Being

Recent research has found that older people in Japan have an "attitude of gratitude," which keeps them feeling hopeful and happy.

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Gratitude inspires hope, according to the results of a study published in Anthropology and Aging.

For the study, Dr. Iza Kavedzija of the University of Exeter observed people in their 80s and 90s as part of her long-term ethnographic fieldwork in the city of Osaka. She found that several members of this community cultivated a "quiet hope," even though they had concerns for the future, such as getting dementia or burdening their children. Residents said they believed things would work out "somehow"—a concept known as nantonaku. So they accepted the uncertainty ahead, while remaining actively engaged in their wider community. This in turn provided them a sense of security and confidence for the future.

"An attitude of gratitude was embedded in older peoples' recollections of the past, but also allowed them to think about the present in a hopeful way. A world in which one has received much good will from others is a different place than one in which one has experienced loss, even if the facts of life are the same," said Dr. Kavedzija. "Gratitude in Japan can be seen to a large extent as a recognition of how much one relies on others as one moves through life. Gratitude highlights feelings of interdependence in the social world."

In keeping with this observation, many of the participants said they wouldn't be who they were without others who played a significant role in their lives, often using the phrase arigatai (I am grateful) and sometimes kansha (gratitude).

"Through appreciation, dependence on others is not seen as simply a burden or a potential source of embarrassment, but also as moving and deeply meaningful," said Dr. Kavedzija. "Meaningful relationships and encounters with others comprise a valuable foundation for what Japanese people call ikigai, or that which makes life worth living."