The Youth Gratitude Project

Research convincingly shows that, when compared with their less grateful peers, grateful youth are happier and more satisfied with their lives, friends, family, neighborhood, and selves. They also report more hope, engagement with their hobbies, higher GPAs, and less envy, depression, and materialism.

As part of the broader Expanding Gratitude project, the Youth Gratitude Project (YGP) seeks to understand the keys to—and benefits of—developing gratitude in youth while also shedding light on ways to measure it.

Even though gratitude has long been considered a powerful ingredient of health and well-being for both individuals and societies, no systematic attempt has ever been made to understand its development in youth. This is a gap that seriously hampers progress in the science of gratitude.

To fill this gap, the YPG team—consisting of researchers at California State University, Dominguez Hills; the University of California, Davis; Hofstra University; and Claremont Graduate University—is significantly advancing the science of gratitude among children and adolescents.

YGP Research Overview

Building on some existing research among children and adolescents, the YGP team have been running a multi-year study to address 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 school-based programs 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 does gratitude predict positive outcomes such as school success, overall well-being, community service, resiliency, health behaviors, and less risk taking?

To address these questions—and with the chief goal of establishing the scientific foundation for gratitude among youth—the YGP consists of four major components.

  • Create gratitude scales for children and adolescents: Preliminary evidence suggests that gratitude may have similar functions for youth as it does for adults. But a basic limitation of this research is that gratitude among youth was measured with scales designed for adults. Thus one of the YGP’s main goals is to create two scales that measure gratitude in youth—one for children and one for adolescents—along with a scale for parents to report on their children’s levels of gratefulness.
  • Examine the development of gratitude in teens: The YGP’s second goal is to examine psychological and social determinants of gratitude during early and late adolescence. Here it will analyze data from an earlier four-year longitudinal study conducted with over 400 teens. It will look at more than just well-being among teens, also examining concepts related to thriving, such as intentional self-regulation, self-control, social support, self-efficacy, prosocial and antisocial behavior, community involvement, health behaviors, religiosity or spirituality, and participation in extra-curricular activities.
  • Examine the role of parental and social determinants of youth gratitude: Previous research has not explored the link between specific parenting practices and gratitude in children and adolescents. That is why the YGP is currently collecting data from parent-child dyads to examine how much parents’ modeling, valuing, and reinforcement of gratitude expression in their children (ages 7-18) is related to gratitude in youth. In addition, the YGP is examining the roles of parent-child attachment, self-competence, and friendship quality as determinants.
  • Conduct cross-cultural research on a school-based gratitude curriculum: The YGP has already created a school-based curriculum that teaches children how to think gratefully. Results from its pilot studies show that students who received the gratitude curriculum, compared to students who did not receive it, reported increases in grateful thinking, gratitude, and positive emotions up to five months later. The YGP is now planning with colleagues in the U.S. and Australia to refine the curriculum and will soon be testing it in India, Great Britain, Singapore, and Japan to examine ways to promote gratitude and well-being across these cultures.

YGP Research Team

Researchers at four universities constitute the core of the YGP research team:

  • Giacomo Bono, Ph.D., is an associate professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills. He has a PhD. in Social Psychology from Claremont Graduate University and has extensive training and work experience involving research in health, positive psychology, youth development, and school and community programs for youth and families. With approximately 20 articles and chapters published, his research has appeared on U.S. News and World Report, Youth Radio, and in the Huffington Post.
  • Kendall Cotton Bronk, Ph.D., is an associate professor of psychology in the Division of Behavioral & Social Sciences at Claremont Graduate University. She is a developmental psychologist interested understanding and supporting the positive development and moral growth of young people. Most recently, she has investigated these topics through the lens of young people’s purposes in life. Her research has explored the relationship between purpose and healthy growth, the ways young people discover purpose, and the developmental trajectory of youth with strong commitments to various purposes in life. More recently, she has been exploring the relationship between gratefulness and a sense of purpose among youth.
  • Jeffrey J. Froh, Psy.D., is a school psychologist and associate professor of psychology at Hofstra University. He is past associate editor for The Journal of Positive Psychology and co-editor of Activities for Teaching Positive Psychology: A Guide for Instructors. His research has appeared in media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and Better Homes and Gardens.
  • Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and one of the world’s leading scientific experts on gratitude. He is past president of the American Psychological Association’s Division 36, The Psychology of Religion and is founding editor and editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology. He is the author of several books about gratitude, including Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier and Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity.

Youth & Gratitude Resources

Want to learn more about youth and the science of gratitude? Please see these resources: