This letter of intent was part of the application submitted for the Biola University Gratitude to God Grant.
This proposed project will be my last contribution to the science of spirituality/religion and a fitting conclusion of all my research involving faith in God (Wong, 2017a). It will provide the much needed empirical foundation for PP 2.0 (Wong, 2019a; Wong, 2019b).
Central research questions
- How is Gratitude to God (GTG) related to the other dimensions of gratitude?
- How can we develop a valid and reliable instrument to measure GTG?
- How is GTG related to other dimensions of a resilient mind?
- How effective are GTG interventions relative to other gratitude interventions for a variety of populations?
Related RFP questions
- How does GTG function as a buffer between various stressful events and both positive and negative wellbeing measures?
- How do GTG and stressors related to each other, and to positive as well as negative wellbeing measures?
Gratitude or its absence has always been a big part of my life. Personally, I have suffered more from betrayal and ingratitude from
Christians than unbelievers (Wong, 2017b). I have been puzzled by two things: (1) How can Christians be so ungrateful?; and (2) why the wounds inflicted by ingratitude are so deep and painful?
In writing this proposal, I realized that ingratitude is the worst sin and inflicts the deepest wound because it violates a person’s basic need for trust, appreciation, belonging, and justice. It is like making sacrifices for others only to be falsely accused.
It dawned on me that ingratitude occurs when people attack you out of envy (Mark 15:10), or when they try to be freed from indebtedness because you have done much for them. That’s why an ungrateful person would be an unkind person, no matter how much biblical knowledge they have. Without a sense of gratitude, a Christian’s heart would not be in alignment with God’s heart, resulting in ungodly deeds. Thus, restoring gratitude to Christian teaching is much needed to revitalize the church. Figure 1 shows that GTG is central to all aspects of Christian living.
Figure 1. How GTG is central to all aspects of Christian living.
GTG is also at the heart of worshipping and serving God. Christians cannot experience an amazing spiritual journey until their mindset is changed from egotistic pride to humble gratitude (Emmons, 2006; 2013; Hill, 2016; 2019).
Ingratitude was responsible for the original sin because Adam and Eve were willing to disobey God who provided everything for their happiness. Gratitude is responsible for restoring the lost Paradise because it brings us back to God, both in humility and repentance, because of the redemptive sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. Gratitude not only opens our hearts to the grace of salvation, but also teaches us to appreciate planet earth and preserve the environment. That’s why I am deeply burdened to do research on GTG for spiritual reasons.
Professionally, I am puzzled why so many of my clients, who had everything that others are dying to have, still complained about being unhappy. Is this a personal or social malaise? The more I work with my clients, the more I discover that they have too much self entitlement and not enough gratitude to others. I have concluded that many of them suffered from a new form of negative mindset as characterized by Figure 2.
Figure 2. The new form of negative mindset.
People with the above negative mindset are doomed to a miserable life. I have also discovered that gratitude can save them from their mental health crisis. Guiding them to think about the positive aspects of a bad situation, or the adaptive benefits of having faith in God in situations beyond human control would evoke feeling of gratitude, which automatically transformed their negativity. Furthermore, reminding them about the brevity of life, the beginning of their relationships and the positive aspects of their spouse reduced marital conflicts. Thus, gratitude interventions in my clinical practice has proven to be effective in reducing psychological symptoms and enhancing wellbeing
GTG works because (a) it moves people away from a horizontal orientation to a vertical one; (b) it brings people to the origin of all blessings (Figure 1); and (c) it reorients people from the extrinsic motivation of using others for personal happiness and success to the intrinsic motivation of appreciation and gratitude. GTG along with faith in God has been part of my meaning therapy (Wong, 2019d). Research on GTG will provide empirical evidence and attract more mental health workers interested in GTG.
Scientifically, gratitude research is an important part of existential positive psychology (PP 2.0) (Wong, 2019e). Gratitude and meaning are the two main transformers capable of overcoming our negativity bias and inevitable sufferings and simultaneously transforming our painful emotions into uplifting ones. While suffering serves as a trigger to search for meaning (Wong, 2019f), gratitude opens our eyes to the grace and goodness of God when we experience his rescue in our desperation. Meaning can change how one think about life, gratitude can change both how one think and feel about life–from complaining to appreciating and thanksgiving.
Research on existential gratitude (EG) (Jans-Beken & Wong, 2019; Wong, 2016) represents a major step forward in directly transforming the negative aspects of suffering into something uplifting and adaptive. EG is a prototype of PP 2.0. But GTG goes further by focusing on God, the origin of EG (Figure 1).
From the perspective of PP 2.0, a complete science of wellbeing necessarily involves the interactive process of building what is good & healthy (yang) and transforming what is bad & painful (yin). A one-sided approach, whether positive (positive psychology) or negative (clinical psychology), could never result in healing and sustainable wellbeing. That is why I am excited about the funding opportunity to do research on the dual-system approach, a major tenet of PP 2.0 (Wong, 2011; 2012).
1) Regarding the structure of gratitude, I will do an exploratory factor analysis of all the major measures of gratitude, including the Existential Gratitude Scale (EGS) (Jans-Beken & Wong, 2019) and the GTG scale. I expect the factor structure will be like Figure 3.
Figure 3. A 4-factor model of gratitude.
2) Regarding the second research question, I have begun the first stage of scale construction (item-selection). I will then do all the necessary reliability and validity studies to make it one of the widely used instruments as others I have developed (e.g., Peacock & Wong, 1990; Reker & Wong, 1988).
3) Regarding the functions of GTG as described in the following figure 4, GTG will be tested in various populations such as palliative care patients, stroke patients, trauma victims, depressed individuals, and new converts.
Figure 4. Functions of gratitude to God (GTG).
I have also discovered the resilient mindset as characterized by Figure 5.
Figure 5. The resilient mindset.
Both the medical science of pain control, and my lifelong research on coping with stress have provided empirical support for the efficacy of the above 6 mindsets. I have developed tests for all the above 6 mindsets. I will conduct hierarchical regression analysis to determine how these mindsets will predict positive & negative wellbeing measures.
4) Some sample GTG exercises can be seen in Figure 6.
Figure 6. Sample GTG exercises.
Experiments to determine the effects of GTG intervention might involve testing the interactions between faith vs. no faith and high Trauma vs. low trauma in a 2 X 2 factorial design. Participants will be recruited from Mechanical Turkeys. The outcome measures will include spiritual virtues such as transcendence (Wong, 2016), spiritual wellbeing, and subjective wellbeing.
5) Multiple regression with the cross-product term forced into the regression to determine the buffering effect of GTG against stress.
6) Structural equation modelling will be used to decide on the interactions between GTG and stress, as well as positive and negative wellbeing measures for different populations. This research will illuminate the dialectic principle.
GTG is the origin of all kinds of gratitude (see Figure 3) and the center of spiritualty (Figure 7).
Figure 7. GTG as the center of spirituality.
The GTG measure and the resilient mind measure can predict success in a variety of Christian ministries and humanitarian missions. GTG interventions can be used to improve the psychological and physical health outcomes in various populations. More importantly, GTG research will directly test the basic tenets of PP 2.0 and transform research & interventions in both positive psychology and clinical psychology.
Five post-docs have made a commitment to this project.
- Emmons, R. A. (2003). Gratitude Works: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity. Spirituality and Practice. Retrieved from ; https://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/book-reviews/excerpts/view/24818?fbclid=IwAR0KjiV7uvMLAAgSO8Fk-3Q0yn5FoPKEV9K3ofP9BBdK29IL8SRD1ybZ5eA
- Emmons, R. A. (2013). How Gratitude Can Help You Through Hard Times. Greater Good Science Center, May, 13. Retrieved from http://www.dailygood.org/pdf/dg.php?sid=532.
- Hill, P. C. (2016, September 24). Global Plus: Research shows the power of humility. International Association of Religion Journalists. Retrieved from https://www.theiarj.org/blog/2016/09/23/global-plus-research-shows-the-power-of-humility/
- Hill, P. C. (2019). 55-Humilty and Gratitude as Religiously Inflected Virtues. FULLER Curated. Retrieved from http://fullercurated.libsyn.com/is19d3-peter-hill-lecture
- Jans-Beken, L. G. P. J., & Wong, P. T. P. (2019). Development and preliminary validation of the Existential Gratitude Scale (EGS). Counselling Psychology Quarterly. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1080/09515070.2019.1656054
- Peacock, E. J., & Wong, P. T. P. (1990). The Stress Appraisal Measure (SAM): A multidimensional approach to cognitive appraisal. Stress Medicine, 6(3), 227-236. https://doi.org/10.1002/smi.2460060308
- Reker, G. T., & Wong, P. T. P. (1988). Aging as an individual process: Toward a theory of personal meaning. In J. E. Birren, & V. L. Bengston (Eds.), Emergent theories of aging(pp. 214-246). New York, NY: Springer.
- Wong, P. T. P. (2019f). A Two-Factor Model of Search For Meaning. Dr. Paul T. P. Wong. Retrieved from http://www.drpaulwong.com/a-two-factor-model-of-search-for-meaning
- Wong, P. T. P. (2011). Positive psychology 2.0: Towards a balanced interactive model of the good life. Canadian Psychology, 52(2), 69-81. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0022511
- Wong, P. T. P. (2012a). Toward a dual-systems model of what makes life worth living. In P. T. P. Wong (Ed.), The human quest for meaning: Theories, research, and applications (2nd ed., pp. 3-22). New York, NY: Routledge.
- Wong, P. T. P. (2016, June). Self-transcendence as the path to virtue, happiness and meaning Paper presented at the research working group meeting for Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life Project, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois. (Funded by the John Templeton Foundation) (Abstract retrieved from https://virtue.uchicago.edu/page/paul-t-p-wong-june-2016-working-group-meeting-topic)
- Wong, P. T. P. (2017a). Reflections on my psychology career: Where I come from, and where I am going. A Lifelong Search for Meaning: Lessons on Virtue, Grit, and Faith. Retrieved from http://www.drpaulwong.com/reflections-on-my-psychology-career/
- Wong, P. T. P. (2017b). The Joy and Suffering of Christian Ministry. Paul T. P. Wong. Retrieved from http://www.drpaulwong.com/the-joy-and-suffering-of-christian-ministry/
- Wong, P. T. P. (2019a). Second wave positive psychology’s (PP 2.0) contribution to counselling psychology. Counselling Psychology Quarterly [Special Issue].Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1080/09515070.2019.1671320
- Wong, P. T. P. (2019b). The Maturing of Positive Psychology and the Emerging PP 2.0 [Review of the book Positive Psychology (3rd ed.), by W. Compton & E. Hoffman]. Paul T. P. Wong. Retrieved from http://www.drpaulwong.com/the-maturing-of-positive-psychology-and-the-emerging-pp20-a-book-review-of-positive-psychology-3rd-ed-by-william-compton-and-edward-hoffman/
- Wong, P. T. P. (2019d). Meaning is the Key to Mental Health and Flourishing. Retrieved from www.drpaulwong.com/meaning-is-the-key-to-mental-health-and-flourishing
- Wong, P. T. P. (2019e). Why and How I Developed the Positive Psychology of Suffering. Dr. Paul T. P. Wong. Retrieved from http://www.drpaulwong.com/why-and-how-i-developed-the-positive-psychology-of-suffering/
Wong, P. T. P. (2020, March 2). A Research Proposal Gratitude to God: Theory, Research and Applications. Dr. Paul T. P. Wong. Retrieved from http://www.drpaulwong.com/a-research-proposal-gratitude-to-god-theory-research-and-applications