In a recent article in the Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers looked at how gratitude can help people feel less objectified and used.
“Objectification causes severe consequences, ranging from interpersonal indifference, reduced empathy and helping, aggression and bullying, to even killing and genocide,” explains psychologist Xijing Wang of the City University of Hong Kong. “Therefore, it is important to find interventions to alleviate objectification.”
Wang defines objectification as the denial of another person’s autonomy, wants, and feelings in favor of treating others like merely objects or tools for achieving one’s own goals.
“Employees can be treated as mere instruments to aid the financial success of their employers, students can be treated by their classmates as note-takers, and women can be perceived and treated solely as an object of sexual desire without regard for their personality or dignity,” Wang wrote.
Objectification causes severe consequences, ranging from interpersonal indifference, reduced empathy and helping, aggression and bullying, to even killing and genocide. Therefore, it is important to find interventions to alleviate objectification.Xijing Wang
Combining classical definitions of objectification, Wang suggests that objectification is marked by seven key features:
- Instrumentality: When someone treats a target as a tool for his or her own purpose
- Fungibility: When someone treats a target as interchangeable with other objects
- Violability: When someone treats a target as lacking in boundary integrity
- Ownership: When someone treats a target as though the target can be owned
- Denial of autonomy: When someone treats a target as lacking in autonomy or self-determination
- Inertness: When someone treats a target as lacking in agency or activity
- Denial of subjectivity: When someone treats a target as someone whose experiences and feelings need not be taken into account
Wang’s research found that gratitude, both as a feeling and as a gesture, reduced the levels of objectification in a particular environment over the course of three studies that included writing gratitude letters and imagining the effects of gratitude in an environment prone to behaviors of objectification.
“The effect of gratitude on weakening objectification can be due to its ability to reduce people’s focus on their own needs,” explains Wang. “That is, when people become less concerned with their own wants and desires, they are less likely to see others as instruments to fulfill those needs and are less likely to fail to consider others’ personhood.”
For people who wish to cultivate gratitude in their daily lives, Wang proposes three simple tips:
- Reflection: Spend a few minutes every day thinking about the wonderful things in life (such as a movie, books, a TV show we enjoy, or even being able to bask in the sunshine).
- Exposing ourselves to nature: Spend time in nature by traveling to a place where you can enjoy a magnificent environment.
- Showing Appreciation: Writing a thank you note or verbally appreciating or thanking someone.
Wang concludes, “Expressing gratitude doesn’t need to cost you anything financially. So just do it.”