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Davis, California

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Gratefulness leads to happiness

When it comes to gratefulness and positive thinking, not much research is available on children and adolescents. However, Dr. Robert Emmon’s research from UC Davis, in collaboration with Dr. Giacomo Bono (Whittier College) and Dr. Jeffrey Froh (Hofstra University) builds a scientific basis for trying to understand gratitude in children. This study is one-of-a-kind because it is the first to assess grateful thinking in adolescents — an area of research that has been neglected due to the common misconception that children are ungrateful.

“Gratitude is the ability to be aware of the gifts life provides that we have done absolutely nothing to earn, deserve or receive,” said Dr. Emmons in an email interview.

Seven hundred middle school students were assessed on their measures of gratitude, pro-social behavior, life satisfaction and social integration every three months for a six-month period.

The researchers found that gratitude is a complex emotion that begins to spark in children around the ages of 10 and 14.

“Participants were instructed to count up to five things in which they were thankful for and write and deliver an appreciation letter to someone. Aside from the control group, the non-control group were taught to think gratefully,” Dr. Bono said.

 After a six-month period, participants’ measures on these assessments were analyzed. The study took three years to complete.

“Gratitude interventions can enhance feelings of resiliency, which acts as a buffer in times of adversity,” Dr. Froh said.

The researchers found that six months after the study, the participants who were taught to be more appreciative achieved easier social integration — meaning they were more socially adept and fit in better with peers. Social integration was found to be negatively associated with depression, envy, delinquency and antisocial behavior. Consequently, it was found to be positively correlated with a higher grade point average, life satisfaction, positive affect, self-esteem, hope and happiness.

Practicing an attitude of gratitude can make individuals healthier, function optimally, improve well-being and lead to more resiliency. According to Dr. Emmons, resiliency acts somewhat like a psychological immune system that protects the individual during times of stress. Such a mindset can allow an individual to change his or perception about difficulties, and view them as opportunities instead.

This in turn, allows grateful people to notice and appreciate the good things that happen to them. Over time, if one is truly thankful for the gifts they receive in life, one develops the need or dependency to do something in return — paying it forward, also known as “upstream generativity.” Feelings of indebtedness evolves into a full circle, benefiting not only the individual, but others as well.

“Anyone can teach themselves how to become more grateful. That’s the great thing about gratitude — no one is ever too young, too old, too rich, too poor, too sick, too healthy to practice gratitude — [it’s] freely available to all!” Dr. Emmons said.



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