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Prayer Practices & Gratitude: Comparing Gratitude and Daily Hassles, Journaling to Prayers of Thanksgiving and Supplication

Project Lead: Dr. Sarah Schnitker
Doctoral Student Researchers: Kelsy Richardson

What effect will praying about daily hassles have on well-being?

Study Overview

Both prayer and gratitude expression are practices associated with well-being and with each other. Emmons & McCullough (2003) demonstrated experimentally that journaling about things for which a person is thankful can promote positive well-being outcomes, and Lambert, Fincham, Braithwaite, Graham, & Beach (2009) found that people assigned to pray for four weeks reported higher levels of gratitude than people who wrote positive things about their partners. Lambert, Graham, & Fincham (2009) found that amongst 219 features of prayer, “thanking” was most frequently mentioned by participants after the concept of “God.”

Prayer of thanksgiving is only one of the various types of prayer that people practice (Ladd & Spilka, 2002; Laird, Snyder, Rapoff, & Green, 2004). Supplication, as defined in Laird, Snyder, Rapoff, and Green’s (2004) Multidimensional Prayer Inventory, involves asking God for help and intervention in specific life circumstances and is one of the most frequently practiced types prayer (Johnson, 1959). In gratitude journaling studies, listing daily hassles is used as a contrast condition to gratitude journaling, and relative to a condition of listing neutral events, listing hassles and gratitude had nearly opposite effects on daily levels of gratitude (Study 1; Emmons & McCullough, 2003). Given the divergent nature of gratitude journaling and listing hassles, we might expect that prayers of gratitude be inversely related to prayers of supplication. Surprisingly, this is not the case. Laird, Snyder, Rapoff, and Green (2004) found that the incidence of prayers of thanksgiving and supplication were positively correlated (p < .001) in data from college students (r = .29) and adult arthritis patients (r = .58). However, results concerning the well-being effects of supplication prayers are mixed (Andersson, 2008). Prayers of supplication are often associated with increased distress in chronic pain sufferers, though little evidence shows whether the act of praying increases distress or if people who suffer from more pain are compelled to pray more frequently.

Thus, we will examine the well-being effects of listing daily hassles and praying about daily hassles in addition to gratitude journaling and gratitude prayers. As in previous studies, we expect that listing daily hassles will lead to decreased gratitude and, perhaps, small decreases in well-being. In regard to praying about daily hassles, we propose three alternatives:

  • It may be that prayer imbues an activity with deeper significance such that it exaggerates the effects of the activity. In this case, we would expect praying about daily hassles to result in even larger decreases in gratitude than merely listing hassles.
  • Praying about daily hassles may or may not affect levels of gratitude but, instead, may increase levels of other virtues such as hope or patience, which have been shown to increase well-being (Schnitker & Emmons, 2007; Weis & Speridakos, 2011). Praying about daily hassles may help the person to reframe the situations and wait with eager expectation for God to intervene.
  • Finally, the act of praying may automatically activate a grateful framework, such that even when praying about daily hassles, the person feels more thankful after praying.


The participants for this study will be students attending Point Loma Nazarene University.  The students will be recruited through psychology courses with the permission of the professors leading the courses. The total number of participants in this study will be approximately 215. The population of the University is students with an age range from 18 to 24. According to data from the 2008-2009 school year, 78% of the students at PLNU are white/non-hispanic, 11% are Hispanic, 6% asian/pacific islander, and 2% black. Also, 78% of the students are native California residents. The gender ratio of the university is approximately 60% female, 40% male. The campus is mainly residential, therefore 68% of the students live on-campus. Another important aspect that represents our participants is that since they are attending a religious-based university, a large majority is affiliated with the Christian religion.

Prayer Practices & Gratitude News & Articles

Reflectorium Recap - November 18th, 2013

2013-11-26 17:46:48 gfoley


November 18th, the Thrive Center hosted the second of its three quarterly Thrive Reflectoriums. For those who may not be aware, these monthly Reflectoriums are a space where the scholars of the Thrive Center for Human Development come together to share research and ideas with each other, with the mindset that the more minds weighing in on a research question, the better. This month, Dr. Samuleson, a Thrive Center Post-Doctoral research fellow, and Kelsy Richardson, a Thrive Center fellow, both presented research in their individual fields. Here’s a recap of what you might have missed.

Dr. Samuelson presented some of the research from his project titled, “The Science of Intellectual Humility.” More specifically, Dr. Samuleson’s presentation was focused on the implicit theories of intellectual humility. The research was focused on the attribution of words or phrases towards the categories of an intellectually humble, wise, or intellectually arrogant person. Dr. Samuelson’s work demonstrated the main categories of descriptors that each of these types of people receive and the possible implications for the ways in which we perceive intellectual or wise people.

Kelsy Richardson presented her research titled, “Prayer Practices and Gratitude: Comparing Daily Prayers of Thanksgiving to Gratitude Journaling and Social Gratitude.” Kelsy’s research demonstrated how participants who prayed their gratitude developed higher levels of virtue and positive life experiences than other participants who either kept a gratitude journal or shared their gratitude with a friend. Kelsy also discussed the future directions of her study, including a follow-up study utilizing hassles and prayers of supplication.

Don’t miss our next Thrive Reflectorium, Monday December 9th at 11am in the School of Psychology building room 311. Dr. Ryan Hornbeck will be presenting some of his research from a Templeton World Charity Foundation grant titled, “Is Religion Natural? The Chinese Challenge.”

-Kelsy Richardson, Thrive Center Fellow (2013-2014)

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