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May 21, 2001


DALLAS (SMU) -- Southern Methodist University psychology professor Michael McCullough recently published a paper on the emotional benefits of gratitude in Psychological Bulletin, one of the two leading journals for review papers in the field of psychology.

McCullough's paper is one of the first full-length treatments published about gratitude as an emotion in psychology. The study of positive emotions, such as gratitude, forgiveness and spirituality, is a growing field in psychology, said McCullough, who is one of only a handful of researchers in the country actively researching gratitude.

Central to McCullough's theorizing is the notion that gratitude is fundamentally a "prosocial emotion" that results from and stimulates prosocial behavior.

"Gratitude is a positive and energizing emotion that that wells up in response to having received a benefit from another person. Gratitude may also motivate people to do good to others. If so, it is an emotion well worth trying to cultivate." McCullough said. He teaches the psychology of religion course at SMU, where he began teaching in 2000 after four years with the National Institute for Healthcare Research and a year teaching at Louisiana Tech University. McCullough earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Florida and his Ph.D from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va.

McCullough said he is interested in religion and spirituality, and how gratitude--which has traditionally been commended by the world's major religions as a personal virtue--shapes people psychologically. Through research, he has discovered that grateful people are happier, more generous and forgiving, and tend to be less envious and less materialistic and more religious or spiritual in general.

"Grateful people seem to be focused on savoring the good things that have already received in life, and may simply feel that they do not have time to concern themselves with resenting other people for what they have," he said.