January 1, 2011

Goal Sanctification & Prayer on Virtues

Sarah Schnitker and student researchers study the impact of goal sanctification on gratitude, generosity, and thrift.

Project Dates


Thrive Research Team

  • Sarah Schnitker, Project Leader
  • Abigail Shepherd, Student Researcher
  • Paul Reppas, Student Researcher
  • Kelsey Richardson, Student Researcher
  • Tyler Greenway, Student Researcher

Funded By

This project and its studies were made possible through the support of generous seed grants by Travis Research Institute.

Project Overview

Several studies were conducted to broadly understand how prayer and/or sanctification of activities affect the development of three virtues: gratitude, generosity, and thrift. In particular, we examined how gratitude and thrift promote generosity as assessed by actual financial donations of participant payment.


Part 1: Prayer Practices and Gratitude

How does praying for one’s thanks (versus thinking about or sharing thanks) influence the wellbeing effects of gratitude practice. This study examined the wellbeing effects of listing daily hassles and praying about daily hassles in addition to gratitude journaling and gratitude prayers. As in previous studies, we expected that listing daily hassles will lead to decreased gratitude and, perhaps, small decreases in wellbeing. In regard to praying about daily hassles, we proposed 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 wellbeing (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.

Former associate professor of psychology at the Thrive Center, Sarah Schnitker and student researcher, Kelsey Richardson analyzed data from 196 college undergraduates, finding that participants in the prayer condition experienced a decrease in negative affect, and participants in the prayer condition who also exerted high effort demonstrated gains in gratitude, positive affect, and hope. The following publication has been submitted regarding the findings from this study:

  • Schnitker, S. A., & Richardson, K. L. (2018). Framing gratitude journaling as prayer amplifies its hedonic and eudaimonic wellbeing, but not health, benefits. The Journal of Positive Psychologydoi:10.1080/17439760.2018.1460690


Part 2: Thrifty Behaviors and Beliefs: Construct and Scale Development

Dr. Schnitker and student researcher, Paul Reppas examined the various factors of the virtue of thrift, including sanctification of resources. They also conducted a second study modeling the relations between thrift and the virtues of gratitude and generosity. Results from this study may be found in the following publication:

  • Ratchford, J.L., Schnitker, S.A., & Reppas, P. (2020). The virtue of thrift: A person-centered conceptualization and measure development. Journal of Happiness Studies. doi: 10.1007/s10902-020-00235-7


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