Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude
For too long, we’ve taken gratitude for granted.
Yes, “thank you” is an essential, everyday part of family dinners, trips to the store, business deals, and political negotiations. That might be why so many people have dismissed gratitude as simple, obvious, and unworthy of serious attention.
But that’s starting to change. Recently scientists have begun to chart a course of research aimed at understanding gratitude and the circumstances in which it flourishes or diminishes. They’re finding that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:
- Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure
- Higher levels of positive emotions
- More joy, optimism and happiness
- Acting with more generosity and compassion
- Feeling less lonely and isolated
That’s why the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley—in collaboration with the University of California, Davis—is launching a $5.6 million, three-year project, Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude. The project is supported with funding from the John Templeton Foundation. The general goals of this initiative are to:
- Expand the scientific database of gratitude, particularly in the key areas of human health, personal and relational well-being, and developmental science;
- Promote evidence-based practices of gratitude in medical, educational, and organizational settings and in schools, workplaces, homes and communities, and in so doing…
- Engage the public in a larger cultural conversation about the role of gratitude in civil society.
To achieve these goals, we are launching a range of research and education initiatives, from a request for research proposals to a public event to a smartphone app competition.
1. Research Grant Competition. We launched a $3 million research initiative to expand the scientific understanding of gratitude, particularly in the key areas of health and well-being, developmental science, and social contexts. The winners were announced on August 3, 2012. In 2013, grant award winners will be invited to participate in a research retreat, where they will present their work in a high-level, rigorous format, enabling them to discuss next stages of building the field and strategize future funding opportunities.
2. Dissertation Research Awards. Until April 5, 2013, we are accepting applications for dissertation research awards. Up to 15 awards will be given in support of the most innovative dissertation research projects on gratitude. The successful recipients will be conducting research on gratitude than spans two or more disciplines (e.g., psychology and evolutionary biology, social neuroscience and medicine, religious studies and virtue ethics). Awardees will receive up to $10,000 for one year to assist in the conduct of their research.
3. University of California and Hofstra University Youth Gratitude Research Project. Building on research into the development of gratitude in children and adolescents, researchers at the University of California and Hofstra University will run a multi-year study that addresses the following questions: What is the role of gratitude in positive youth development? What can the people with the greatest influence over children—parents, teachers, coaches, and others—do to foster gratitude in children? What is the developmental trajectory of gratitude in children? What school-based interventions can promote sustainable increases in grateful character traits? Is there a critical period when the capacity for gratitude is best transmitted from an older to a younger generation? To what degree is gratitude predictive of positive outcomes such as school success, overall well-being, community service, resiliency, health behaviors, and less risk taking?
Public Education Initiatives
1. Expanding Coverage of the Science of Gratitude. New research on gratitude has the potential to improve the lives of millions, if not billions, of people worldwide. For almost a decade, the Greater Good Science Center has provided trailblazing coverage of the science of gratitude through its website, books, and other media. Now, as part of the project, we’ll greatly expand that coverage, helping the general public apply the science of gratitude to their personal and professional lives, and we’ll report on the launch, progress, and results of the project research. What’s more, we will develop a vast array of new tools and content to advance the public’s understanding and practice of gratitude. These will include research-based articles, videos, and podcasts on gratitude.
2. Digital Gratitude Journal. This unprecedented, web-based effort to track and promote the practice of gratitude worldwide will also serve as an invaluable source of scientific data on gratitude. This digital gratitude journal, which is named Thnx4.org, will enable users to regularly record the things for which they are grateful. These entries can be visible to the public, who will be able to search and sort entries by keyword, geographic location, age, gender, and other categories. In effect, Thnx4.org will allow the public and researchers to track cross-national trends in the practice of gratitude, analyze entries by nation, and provide a truly global snapshot of our planet’s current state of gratefulness. This project is set for launch on November 5, 2012!
3. App Competition. In the summer of 2012, we’ll launch a competition for the best web-based and mobile apps dedicated to gratitude and thanksgiving. Modeled after the “Webby Awards,” this award will honor excellence in interactive design, creativity, usability, and functionality. Winning apps will promote the practice of gratitude, not be simply a repository or database for academic articles, and can be connected directly to the Global Gratitude Journal.
4. Public Event. In 2014, we’ll hold a large public event to help bridge the research-practice gap. This event will be open to the public and will feature academic researchers as well as mental health professionals, clergy, and others who want to apply the science of gratitude in their work and everyday life.
Greater Good Science Center Resources
What to know more about the science and practice of gratitude? Please see these Greater Good resources:
- “Pay It Forward,” by Robert A. Emmons
- “Why Gratitude is Good,” by Robert A. Emmons
- “Ten Ways to Become More Grateful,” by Robert A. Emmons
- Pieces on gratitude from Christine Carter’s parenting blog, Raising Happiness
- “Love, Honor, and Thank,” by Jess Alberts and Angela Trethewey
- “Stumbling Toward Gratitude,” by Catherine Price
- Contribute to our “community gratitude journal.”
- And take this gratitude quiz to learn how grateful you are!
Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude
Greater Good Science Center
University of California, Berkeley
2425 Atherton Street #6070
Berkeley, CA 94720-6070
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