Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride: What Do They Have in Common?

May 23, 2018

Earlier this month, I attended the Behavioral Science and Policy Association’s Annual Conference for a day filled with the many ways behavioral science is making an impact across different fields and locations around the world. One of the main themes that emerged was the power and influence of emotions, particularly positive moral emotions, in driving policy interventions. Among the speakers at the conference, David DeSteno’s work stood out as particularly relevant. He is a psychology professor at Northeastern University and author of the 2018 book, Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride. At the Center for Behavior & the Environment, we talk about emotional appeals as a core principle of behavior change. So this book immediately sparked my interest in how each of these three moral emotions is embedded in Rare’s work, particularly social marketing through Pride campaigns.


Gratitude is the expression of being thankful and appreciative for what you have, receive, or experience in the world around you. Evoking feelings of gratitude can reduce impulsive behavior and increase self control. This is powerful in decision making, where individuals tend to be biased towards present, available, and tangible information. In Rare’s Pride campaigns, we leverage gratitude by helping individuals take pride in their environment and feel thankful for the people, animals, and natural systems that sustain them. This in turn can create a greater internal motivation to conserve resources in everyday activities and decisions (e.g., fishing, water and energy use) with an eye towards the future.


Compassion is the feeling of care or concern for others who are experiencing distress or misfortune. This relates to several Pride campaign principles, such as knowing one’s audience, understanding barriers and motivations to behavior change, and speaking to the heart. Rare staff and the local leaders with whom we partner use compassion to help communities connect to each other to address the conservation issue at hand, share hopes and dreams for the future, and elicit feelings of concern for other species. Effective conservation interventions over the long term require building compassion into the fabric of a community’s actions in addition to individual ones.


Pride is the feeling of being deeply satisfied in one’s achievements. It should come as no surprise that pride is a key emotion in Pride campaigns; it is necessary to instill a salient individual and group identity related to species and habitats that are unique to a certain place. But pride does not start and stop with a single campaign. Instead, feelings of pride are long-lasting because of conservation accomplishments that magnify over time and strengthen community networks, social cohesion, and an individual’s sense of belonging. The memorable mascots used in Pride campaigns are not just for show; they are an intentional effort to use emotions to reinforce identities around place as well as environmental stewardship.

All three of these emotions share the qualities of driving behavior change through being internally rewarding and durable; leveraging moral emotions can uniquely create spillover to other non-target behaviors and bring about similar emotions in other people. In this way, the more we express and create supportive conditions for moral emotions, the more they spread to others, creating a positive feedback loop. With a keen eye towards which emotions we use in our behavior change approach, conservation practitioners can make our campaigns and interventions even better.