Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Program Name/Specialization

Social Psychology


Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Anne E. Wilson

Advisor Role



The practice of gratitude has become increasingly prevalent in popular culture as a self-help intervention aimed at improving individuals’ happiness and overall well-being. Although a great deal of empirical work has promoted the benefits of practicing gratitude (see Davis et al., 2016 for a review), less work has been conducted examining the conditions under which the traditional gratitude interventions are less effective, or even entirely ineffective. One potential boundary condition that may be associated with the benefit individuals report after engaging in the practice of gratitude is fluency – an individual’s subjective experience of ease or difficulty. When tasks are experienced as relatively easy, people are more likely to indicate they possess the qualities inherent within the task (e.g., Schwarz et al., 1991). That is, if a gratitude exercise is experienced with relative ease, this ought to be reflected in their subsequent self-relevant judgments (e.g., greater reported gratitude and well-being). In Studies 1-3 we attempted to manipulate fluency (i.e., subjective experience of ease) in a common gratitude intervention in order to assess its role as a potential moderator between the practice of gratitude and well-being. Although the manipulation was unsuccessful, we found individual difference evidence that engaging in a gratitude task was associated with greater well-being when the task was experienced as subjectively easy; but was no different from a control when the task was experienced as subjectively difficult. Next, we tried to mitigate the negative impact of low fluency by providing an alternative explanation for its meaning – namely that it was not important diagnostically (Study 4) or that it indicated more meaningful responding (Study 5). Although Study 5 showed some dampening of the effect of fluency, it failed to reach significance. Finally, overall effects were examined in a series of meta-analyses. Overall, the results provided evidence that gratitude tasks were associated with greater well-being when they were experienced as easy, but were no better than a control when they were experienced as difficult. Further, as subjective difficulty increased, gratitude tasks became less effective (as evidenced by an overall negative slope) as a means of boosting well-being; control tasks however were unaffected by subjective difficulty (as evidenced by a flat slope). These studies represent some of the first steps toward understanding the role of individuals’ phenomenological experience in response to a gratitude intervention. Future directions and real-world implications are discussed.

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