Gratitude uniquely predicts lower depression in chronic illness populations: A longitudinal study of inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis

Health Psychol. 2017 Feb;36(2):122-132. doi: 10.1037/hea0000436. Epub 2016 Oct 27.


Objective: Although gratitude has been identified as a key clinically relevant trait for improving well-being, it is understudied within medical populations. The current study addressed this gap and extended previous and limited cross-sectional research by examining the longitudinal associations of gratitude to depression in 2 chronic illness samples, arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Methods: Two chronic illness samples, arthritis (N = 423) and IBD (N = 427), completed online surveys at Time 1 (T1). One hundred sixty-three people with arthritis and 144 people with IBD completed the 6-month follow-up survey (T2). Depression, gratitude, illness cognitions, perceived stress, social support, and disease-related variables were assessed at T1 and T2.

Results: At T2, 57.2% of the arthritis sample and 53.4% of the IBD sample met the cut off scores for significant depression. T1 gratitude was negatively associated with depressive symptoms at T1 and T2 in both samples (rs from -.43 to -.50). Regression analyses revealed that T1 gratitude remained a significant and unique predictor of lower T2 depression after controlling for T1 depression, relevant demographic variables, illness cognitions, changes in illness-relevant variables, and another positive psychological construct, thriving, in both samples.

Conclusion: As the first investigation of the longitudinal associations of gratitude to psychological well-being in the context of chronic illness, the current study provides important evidence for the relevance of gratitude for health-related clinical populations. Further intervention-based research is warranted to more fully understand the potential benefits of gratitude for adjustment to chronic illness. (PsycINFO Database Record

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arthritis / psychology*
  • Chronic Disease / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / psychology*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Social Support