About the Project
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 less depression;
- More joy, optimism, and happiness;
- Stronger relationships and more generous behavior;
- Less feelings of loneliness and isolation.
That’s why the Greater Good Science Center, in collaboration with Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis, in 2011 launched Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude (ESPG), a multiyear project funded by 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;
- Raise awareness and engage the public in a larger cultural conversation about the meaning and significance of gratitude; and
- Promote evidence-based practices of gratitude in educational, medical, and organizational settings.
The project has centered on a mix of cutting-edge research and broad public education.
After several far-reaching requests for proposals, the GGSC distributed nearly $4 million in funding to researchers across the country, including university faculty, postdoctoral researchers, and graduate students. Their projects broke new ground in the study of gratitude, ranging from studies of gratitude’s benefits for cardiovascular health to the the role of gratitude in romantic relationships to the neuroscience of gratitude. You can learn more about this research on the project’s Research Grant Winners page.
Gratitude Public Education
Complementing—and amplifying—that research has been a variety of efforts to disseminate the scientific findings about gratitude and generally educate the public about what gratitude is, why it matters, and how to cultivate it. This aspect of the project grew out of our belief that new research on gratitude has the potential to improve the lives of millions, if not billions, of people worldwide. For more than a decade, the Greater Good Science Center has provided trailblazing coverage of the science of gratitude through its online magazine, Greater Good, as well as through books and other media. As part of ESPG, the GGSC has greatly expanded its coverage, helping the general public understand new findings from the science of gratitude and apply this research to their personal and professional lives. This has also included reporting on the results of the research funded through the Expanding Gratitude project. Read our latest articles on gratitude on Greater Good. Visit our Gratitude Multimedia page to learn more about our reporting on gratitude, including our award-winning radio special hosted by Susan Sarandon. Also, in June of 2014, the GGSC hosted The Greater Good Gratitude Summit, a large public event where more than 600 people participated in a day of science, stories, and inspiration. This event featured presentations by researchers (including many of the GGSC's gratitude grant recipients), educators, and special guests such as U.S. Olympic women's swimming head coach Teri McKeever, producers from the public radio series StoryCorps, and spiritual teachers Jack Kornfield and Brother David Steindl-Rast. You can watch videos of the day’s presentations and read our reporting on some of the key insights shared at the event.
Putting the Research into Practice
In the later stages of ESPG, the GGSC is Partnering with leaders in education, health care, and business to explore how the fruits of gratitude research can inform new initiatives to build well-being in each of those fields. Collaborators include GreatSchools.org, the Committee for Children (which runs the Second Step program), Kaiser Permanente, the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, and several other prominent organizations. Many of these partnerships involve Thnx4.org, an online journal that allows users to record and share the things for which they're grateful. This unprecedented, web-based effort to track and promote the practice of gratitude worldwide also serves as an invaluable source of scientific data on gratitude: Users of Thnx4 can track their thankfulness, and these results will also be made available to the research community, though individual users always have the option to keep their data private. Many of the GGSC’s partners have included Thnx4 as part of a Gratitude Challenge for their members, encouraging them to use Thnx4 for 21 days of thankfulness. Some of these early partnerships showed that Thnx4 gave a significant boost to users' health and happiness. The GGSC will continue to report on Thnx4 partnerships, including those with Kaiser, Dignity Health, and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Learn more about this work on our Gratitude Partnerships page.
More about Gratitude
Robert Emmons, the GGSC’s lead collaborator on the ESPG project and perhaps the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, argues that gratitude has two key components, which he describes in a Greater Good essay, “Why Gratitude Is Good.” “First,” he writes, “it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.” In the second part of gratitude, he explains, “we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. … We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.” Read more about what gratitude is, why it’s worth practicing, and how to cultivate it on the Greater Good Gratitude Definition page. And for more on gratitude:
- check out our list of seminal studies on gratitude;
- review our list of key books about gratitude;
- take this gratitude quiz to learn how grateful you are;
- try these practices to build gratitude on our Greater Good in Action platform.