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Journal of Happiness Studies
An Interdisciplinary Forum on
J Happiness Stud (2010)
Gratitude and the Reduced Costs of
Materialism in Adolescents
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Gratitude and the Reduced Costs of Materialism
Jeffrey J. Froh
Robert A. Emmons
Noel A. Card
Jennifer A. Wilson
Published online: 11 March 2010
Ó Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010
Abstract Materialistic youth seem to be languishing while grateful youth seem to be
ﬂourishing. High school students (N = 1,035) completed measures of materialism, grati-
tude, academic functioning, envy, depression, life satisfaction, social integration, and
absorption. Using structural equation modeling, we found that gratitude, controlling for
materialism, uniquely predicts all outcomes considered: higher grade point average, life
satisfaction, social integration, and absorption, as well as lower envy and depression. In
contrast, materialism, controlling for gratitude, uniquely predicts three of the six outcomes:
lower grade point average, as well as higher envy and life satisfaction. Furthermore, when
examining the relative strengths of gratitude and materialism as predictors, we found that
gratitude is generally a stronger predictor of these six outcomes than is materialism.
Keywords Gratitude Materialism Well-being Adolescents
We thank Sheldon Karnilow, Patrick Harrigan, William Seﬁck, James LoFrese, Chris Alexander, and all of
the teachers, parents, and students for their support with data collection. Thanks go to Melissa Ubertini,
Pascual Chen, Stephanie Snyder, and Rebecca Spatz for their assistance with data collection. We are grateful
to Tim Kasser for his insightful comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript.
J. J. Froh (&) J. A. Wilson
Department of Psychology, Hofstra University, 210 Hauser Hall, Hempstead, NY 11549, USA
R. A. Emmons
University of California, Davis, CA, USA
N. A. Card
University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA
Whittier College, Whittier, CA, USA
J Happiness Stud (2011) 12:289–302
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As children grow into adults, they internalize attitudes and values from society. Societal
concerns impact the direction in which the self develops and the importance placed on
various life domains. This socialization process has been well studied for numerous aspects
of culture, including how children begin to think of their gender, their race, their sense of
self, as well as other aspects of their identities (Kasser 2005)—including their materialistic
value orientation (Kasser et al. 2004). Indeed, in addition to experiences that induce
feelings of insecurity (e.g., divorce; Rindﬂeisch et al. 1997), exposure to materialistic
social models exerts a direct inﬂuence on children acquiring and internalizing materialistic
values (Kasser et al. 2004).
When materialistic values become essential to a person’s value system, personal well-
being decreases because it is likely that experiences supporting basic psychological needs
will decrease and thus these needs will go unmet (Kasser et al. 2004; Kasser and Ryan
1993, 1996). Gratitude, however, seems to have an opposite effect on personal well-being
partly because it helps people fulﬁll the basic psychological needs of competence,
autonomy, and relatedness (Kneezel and Emmons 2006). And because materialism is a
problem for youth, and concerns about rising material strivings are increasing among
parents, educators, and scientists (Chaplin and John 2007), the purpose of this study was to
examine the effects of materialism and gratitude on social, emotional, and academic
functioning in adolescence.
1.1 Theoretical Framework
Self-determination theory (SDT; Ryan and Deci 2000) suggests people have three innate
needs that drive self-motivation, personality integration, and successful self-regulation:
competence, autonomy, and relatedness. Competence is a desire to affect one’s environ-
ment and achieve valued outcomes within it (Deci and Ryan 2000). Autonomy is the desire
to engage in self-selected behaviors that are concordant with one’s strengths and person-
ality (Deci and Ryan 2000). And relatedness is the desire to feel connected to others and
have a sense of belonging (Deci and Ryan 2000).
These needs appear crucial for well-being (Ryan and Deci 2000). Valuing intrinsic
aspirations (e.g., afﬁliation, growth, and community) is related positively with well-being
and negatively with depression and anxiety; however, valuing extrinsic aspirations (e.g.,
wealth, fame, and image) is related negatively with well-being and positively with
depression and anxiety (Kasser and Ryan 1993). People who over invest in extrinsic or
materialistic goals are more likely to experience mental illness, not mental health, because
the fulﬁllment of basic psychological needs may remain unmet (Kasser 2002). For
example, needs of autonomy and competence would not be fulﬁlled if an individual were
to buy a particular brand of apparel to impress peers, and this choice then has the effect of
compromising their ability to successfully execute an important task (e.g., job, duty) or
valued activity (e.g., sport, hobby). If, however, an individual buys a brand of apparel that
improves their ability to engage in a task or activity and improves their execution of that
task or activity, then they are likely to fulﬁll their needs for autonomy and competence.
Indeed, materialistic adolescents may be less likely to report being intensely absorbed or
engrossed in a personally meaningful activity (Kasser 2002), unlike grateful adolescents
(Froh et al. 2010). This may happen because materialistic values: (a) focus people more on
the external rewards of an activity than on interest and challenge; (b) lead people to
become self-conscious, thus minimizing absorption because it requires losing awareness of
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oneself; and (c) encourage some behaviors (e.g., watching television) that rarely produce
absorption (Kasser 2002). On the other hand, because gratitude is a positive response to
receiving a beneﬁt (Emmons 2007), it tends to promote valuing connections to people,
personal growth, and social capital (i.e., intrinsic aspirations) (Bono and Froh 2009). Thus,
it seems likely that gratitude and materialism drive incompatible ways of functioning.
Values theory provides additional explanation for such links between gratitude and
materialism (Bilsky and Schwartz 1994). In this framework values are desirable, trans-
situational goals that vary in importance and help guide people’s lives. Within a dynamic
structure involving distinct values, some values are incompatible with each other; actions
to fulﬁll one may conﬂict with actions to pursue another. One of the major conﬂicts is
between orientations of self-enhancement (pursuing success and dominance over others)
versus self-transcendence (accepting others as equals and being concerned for their wel-
fare) (Bilsky and Schwartz 1994). Materialism likely falls under the former (Kasser 2005;
Sheldon and Kasser 1995), whereas gratitude likely falls under the latter. Speciﬁcally,
gratitude is most closely related to values of benevolence (preserving and enhancing the
welfare of close others) and universalism (understanding, appreciating, tolerating, and
protecting the welfare of people and nature) (Bilsky and Schwartz 1994). These values are
diametrically opposed to power (desiring social status and control over people and
resources) and hedonism (desiring sensory pleasure for oneself), (Bilsky and Schwartz
1994), which likely are the two values most aligned with materialism. Therefore, values
theory would predict a negative correlation between gratitude and materialism because
they represent opposing value systems.
Further evidence exists for the conﬂict between goals driven by gratitude and goals
driven by materialism. In a group of 1,854 undergraduates from 15 cultures worldwide, 11
types of goals
aligned consistently with two underlying orthogonal dimensions in a cir-
cumplex model: intrinsic (e.g., community, afﬁliation) versus extrinsic (e.g., ﬁnancial
success, image) (Grouzet et al. 2005). Therefore, to the extent that gratitude is an intrinsic
value and is related to goals of community and afﬁliation (Emmons 2007), it will likely
conﬂict with materialistic goals.
1.2 Materialism, Gratitude, and Well-Being
Materialism is a lifestyle based on accumulating and acquiring consumer goods beyond
what is necessary to meet basic needs (Kasser 2002). It involves the belief that it is
important to attain ﬁnancial success, nice possessions, the right image, and high status
(Kasser et al. 2004). Consumer researchers deﬁne materialism as the importance a person
places on worldly possessions (Belk 1984) or to acquiring possessions that he considers
necessary to attain goals (e.g., happiness) (Richins and Dawson 1992). Although materi-
alism has been identiﬁed with personality traits such as envy, lack of generosity, and
possessiveness (Belk 1985), it is currently identiﬁed with values and an orientation to
consumption-based aims, beliefs, goals, and behaviors (Kasser et al. 2004). Indeed,
materialism is now typically measured via the ‘‘values method’’ where participants rate a
variety of different goals and values—such as those concerning spirituality, relationships,
sensual pleasure, and materialism—in terms of how important each is to their lives (Kasser
and Ryan 1993, 1996).
The 11 goals were: hedonism, safety, physical health, self-acceptance, afﬁliation, community feeling,
spirituality, conformity, popularity, image, and ﬁnancial success.
Gratitude and the Reduced Costs of Materialism 291
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Negative psychological correlates of materialism exist in adulthood. Materialistic adults
tend to exhibit life dissatisfaction (Richins and Dawson 1992), unhappiness (Belk 1985),
low self-esteem (Kasser 2002), less concern with the welfare of others (Sheldon and Kasser
1995), less relatedness, autonomy, competence, and meaning in life (Kashdan and Breen
2007), and more depression (Kasser and Ryan 1993) and envy (Belk 1985). Beyond
reporting low levels of gratitude (Kashdan and Breen 2007; McCullough et al. 2002),
materialistic adults are less satisﬁed with their standards of living, family lives, and the
amount of fun and enjoyment they experience (Richins and Dawson 1992).
Several studies document similar ﬁndings in children and adolescents. Materialistic
youth tend to be less committed to school (Goldberg et al. 2003), more preoccupied with
consumer behaviors (Goldberg et al. 2003) have poorer academic performance (Roberts
et al. 1999), and are at greater risk for psychopathology (e.g., depression; Cohen and Cohen
1996), anxiety, and unhappiness (Kasser 2005). Further, they are not only less likely to
experience family togetherness (Flouri 2004), but they are also less likely to be socially
integrated, or inclined to connect to and help others in their neighborhood and community
(Froh et al. 2010).
Gratitude, on the other hand, may promote healthy social development. Grateful youth
report satisfaction with their friends, family, community, and school; they also report
having supportive family and peer relationships, as well as helping others (Froh et al.
2009). Further, by focusing young people on ways others have beneﬁted them, gratitude
may enhance self-respect (Froh et al. 2008b). Therefore, gratitude seems crucial for healthy
development because it focuses youth on how their lives are supported and sustained by
others, which should bolster feelings of being valued and of security—states that are
negatively related with materialism.
1.3 The Present Study
Research examining the relation between materialism and well-being in youth is scarce
despite concerns about the ill effects of materialism on youth (Kasser 2002; Schor 2004).
Research has yet to examine how materialism and gratitude simultaneously, and therefore
uniquely, predict such broad outcomes as academic functioning (grade point average
[GPA]), life satisfaction, absorption, social integration, envy, and depression. We expect
that materialism will negatively predict gratitude, GPA, life satisfaction, absorption, and
social integration, and positively predict depression and envy. We also expect that grati-
tude will positively predict GPA, life satisfaction, absorption, and social integration, and
negatively predict depression and envy. Finally, we expect that the paths between gratitude
and the outcomes will be stronger than the paths between materialism and the outcomes.
Students enrolled in curriculum that all students receive (i.e., English) were sought for
participation to increase the odds of obtaining a representative sample of the school. The
students were recruited by the ﬁrst author, while working as a school psychologist in the
same district. He contacted the principal of the school where data were collected and asked
for permission to distribute parental consent forms and collect data after receiving passive
parental consent and active student assent. Of the 1,090 students in the school, 50 were
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absent the day of data collection, and ﬁve parents/guardians returned the consent forms
requesting that their child not participate in the study. All data were collected from one
school in a city in Long Island, New York during spring 2007. One week prior to data
collection, the ﬁrst author reviewed all measures and instructions with the vice principal
who then reviewed them with the teachers. Teachers were given a script for introducing the
study to students to ensure uniformity and control for potential demand characteristics.
Teachers administered questionnaires in classrooms.
Participants were 1,035 students from a public high school (mean age = 15.67 years,
SD = 1.21, range = 14–19 years). Students were in grades 9 (27.8%), 10 (25.0%), 11
(25.7%), and 12 (21.5%) within an afﬂuent district (district median household
income = $94,339; state median household income = $43,393). Most were Caucasian
(64.7%), about half were male (50.6%), and 12.5% reported receiving special education
The Material Values Scale (MVS; Richins 2004) is a 15-item measure of materialism using
a Likert scale from 1 (strongly disagree)to5(strongly agree). In adult samples, internal
reliabilities have ranged from .79 to .91 (Richins 2004). The MVS evaluates three distinct
aspects (each serving as an indicator in our latent variable models described below):
success (e.g., ‘‘I admire people who own expensive homes, cars, and clothes.’’), centrality
(e.g., ‘‘Buying things gives me a lot of pleasure.’’), and happiness (e.g., ‘‘I’d be happier if I
could afford to buy more things.’’). An initial exploratory factor analysis indicated that
these items are unidimensional, and in the current sample, the MVS total score demon-
strated good internal consistency (a = .81).
We used three scales to assess gratitude (each serving as an indicator in our latent variable
models). The Gratitude Questionnaire–6 (GQ-6; McCullough et al. 2002) is a 6-item
measure of gratitude using a Likert scale from 1 (strongly disagree)to7(strongly agree)
including items such as, ‘‘If I had to list everything that I felt grateful for, it would be a
very long list,’’ (We replaced ‘‘grateful’’ with ‘‘thankful’’ in the items because we have
found that youth use the latter more when describing their experience as a beneﬁciary). The
GQ-6 has a robust one-factor solution (McCullough et al. 2002) and has demonstrated
good internal consistency in adult (a = .82; McCullough et al. 2002) and early adolescent
samples (a = .82; Froh et al. 2008b). In the current sample, the GQ-6 demonstrated
acceptable internal consistency (a = .76).
The Gratitude, Resentment, and Appreciation Test (GRAT)-short form (Thomas and
Watkins 2003) is a 16-item measure of gratitude using a Likert scale from 1 (strongly
disagree)to9(strongly agree). Internal consistency is excellent in adult samples
(a = .92), as are convergent and discriminant validity (Thomas and Watkins 2003). The
GRAT-short form assesses three aspects: lack of a sense of deprivation (e.g., ‘‘Life has
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been good to me.’’), simple appreciation (e.g., ‘‘Oftentimes I have been overwhelmed at the
beauty of nature.’’), and appreciation for others (e.g., ‘‘I couldn’t have gotten where I am
today without the help of many people.’’). In the current sample, the total GRAT score
demonstrated good internal consistency (a = .82), and alpha for the subscales ranged from
acceptable to good (lack of a sense of deprivation: a = .81; simple appreciation: a = .74;
appreciation for others: a = .73).
The Gratitude Adjective Checklist (GAC; McCullough et al. 2002) is the sum of three
adjectives (grateful, thankful, and appreciative) rated on a Likert scale from 1 (very slightly
or not at all)to5(extremely). It has shown good internal consistency in adult (a = .87)
(McCullough et al. 2002) and adolescent samples (a = .78 - .88) (Froh et al. 2008a). The
students were asked to indicate how much they felt each emotion ‘‘in general.’’ In the
current sample, the GAC demonstrated good internal consistency (a = .86).
Together, the GQ-6, GRAT-short form, and GAC comprised the latent variable for
gratitude in our model.
2.3.3 Academic achievement
Students were asked to report their GPA. The response options were: 95 and above, 90–
94.9, 85–89.9, 80–84.9, 75–79.9, 70–74.9, 65.0–69.9, and 64.9 and below. (This school
district uses a 0–100 scale for GPA.)
2.3.4 Life satisfaction
The Brief Multidimensional Students’ Life Satisfaction Scale (BMSLSS; Seligson et al.
2003) is a 5-item measure using a Likert scale ranging from 1 (terrible)to7(delighted)
that assesses satisfaction with family life, friendships, school experience, self, and living
environment. Internal consistency has been acceptable with middle school students
(a = .75) and good with high school students (a = .81). Conﬁrmatory factor analyses
support its construct validity with a total life satisfaction score accounting for 50% of the
total variance (Huebner et al. 2003). Overall life satisfaction is the sum of the ﬁve items. A
sample item is, ‘‘I would describe my satisfaction with my family life as _________.’’ In
the current sample, the BMSLSS demonstrated acceptable internal consistency (a = .72),
and the ﬁve items were parceled into three indicators for latent variable analysis.
The Dispositional Envy Scale (DES; Smith et al. 1999) is an 8-item measure of envy using
a Likert scale from 1 (strongly disagree)to5(strongly agree). In college samples, internal
consistency (sample 1 a = .86, and sample 2 a = .83) and 2-week test-retest reliability is
good (.80) (Smith et al. 1999). A sample item is, ‘‘I feel envy every day.’’ In the current
sample, the DES demonstrated good internal consistency (a = .87). We formed three
parceled indicators from these eight items for our latent variable models.
The Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale for Children (CES-DC; Weissman
et al. 1980) is a 20-item measure of depression using a Likert scale from 1 (not at all)to4
). Concurrent validity and test-retest reliability have been established (Faulstich et al.
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1986). It has demonstrated good internal consistency (a = .88) in a sample of 156 youth
ranging in age from 8 to 17 years (Brage et al. 1993). A sample item is, ‘‘I felt down and
unhappy.’’ In the current sample, the CES-DC demonstrated good internal consistency
(a = .89), and the 20 items were parceled into three indicators for latent variable analysis.
2.3.7 Absorption and social integration
The Engaged Living in Youth Scale (ELYS; Froh et al. 2010) is a 15-item measure of
positive psychological functioning using a Likert scale from 1 (deﬁnitely not like me)to6
(exactly like me). In a sample of early and late adolescents, internal consistency was good
for the absorption (a = .89) (6 items) and social integration (a = .84) (9 items) subscales
(Froh et al. 2010). A sample item for absorption is, ‘‘While doing my hobbies (e.g., sports,
reading, musical instruments, acting, etc.), I feel ‘in the zone,’’’ and a sample item for
social integration is, ‘‘I feel like a part of my community/neighborhood.’’ In the current
sample, the absorption (a = .82) and social integration subscale (a = .83) demonstrated
good internal consistency. The 6 items from the absorption subscale and 9 items from the
social integration subscale were each parceled into three indicators for latent variable
2.3.8 Socioeconomic status
The Hollingshead Four Factor Index of Social Status (Hollingshead 1975) uses a combi-
nation of education and occupation ratings to categorize individuals into ﬁve social classes,
which correspond roughly with upper class (Class I), the middle classes (Classes II and III),
the working class (Class IV), and the poor (Class V). An individual’s occupational prestige
is rated on a 10-point scale, from 0 = housewives, those on welfare, laid-off workers, and
unemployed to 9 = executives, commissioned ofﬁcers in the military, major government
ofﬁcials, and professionals. Education level is also rated on a 7-point scale, from
1 = under 7 years of schooling to 7 = completed some graduate or professional training.
These two ratings are then combined as follows: (5 9 [occupation]) ? 3 9 [education]).
For a family where both parents work, the same calculations would be made for each
parent. Then, the total score for each parent would be added together and divided by two to
create a ﬁnal socioeconomic status continuous code for that family.
3.1 Measurement Model
We ﬁrst calculated descriptive statistics for the main study variables and socioeconomic
status (see Table 1). We then ﬁt a conﬁrmatory factor analytic (CFA) model to evaluate
measurement of our latent constructs. This mode ﬁt the data well: v
CFI = .96, RMSEA = .055
(90% conﬁdence interval = .051–.058)
. This ﬁt, and the absence of
noteworthy modiﬁcation indices, provides support for this measurement model. Inspection
of the factor loadings indicated that all were signiﬁcant and substantial, with standardized
loadings ranging from .60 to .89.
The latent correlations from this CFA are shown in Table 2. From this table, we see that
materialism and gratitude have a medium negative association with each other.
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Materialism is associated with lower GPA, higher envy, lower life satisfaction, and lower
social integration and absorption (small-to-medium associations). In contrast, gratitude has
medium associations with higher GPA and absorption, strong positive relations with life
satisfaction and social integration, and medium associations with lower envy and
depression. This table also displays associations with variables that will serve as covariates
in subsequent models (constructs 1–5). Here, we see that females have higher levels of
gratitude and lower levels of materialism than males, but that materialism and gratitude are
unrelated to age, being an ethnic minority, SES, or receipt of special education services
Table 1 Means, standard devia-
tions, and range for the main
study variables and socioeco-
GQ-6, Gratitude Quesitonnaire-6;
GRAT-short form Gratitude,
Resentment, and Appreciation
Test-short form; GAC Gratitude
Adjective Checklist; SES
Outcome Mean SD Range
Materialism 43.08 8.25 17–75
GQ-6 33.17 5.43 7–42
GRAT-short form 101.03 17.18 46–144
GAC 11.21 2.84 3–15
GPA 6.24 1.30 1–8
Life satisfaction 27.08 4.41 13–35
Envy 17.46 6.42 8–39
Depression 36.76 10.41 20–73
Absorption 27.57 5.60 8–36
Social integration 38.56 7.78 11–54
SES 49.27 9.76 6–66
Table 2 Latent correlations among constructs (From CFA)
1. Age -.01 .06 -.15* .05 -.08 .06 .05 -.02 .09* -.10* -.03 -.09*
-.01 .04 -.07 .19* -.14* .16* .07 .19* -.08 .22* -.16*
-.07 -.01 .05 .07 -.11* -.07 .04 -.09 .14* .02
4. SES -.02 .02 -.08 .22* .05 .05 -.03 -.02 .01
-.09 .06 -.29* .10* .01 .01 .01 .01
6. Gratitude -.34* .28* -.35* -.43* .69* .76* .34*
7. Materialism -.22* .25* .06 -.10* -.22* -.02
8. GPA -.13* -.10* .20* .17* .08
9. Envy .51* -.44* -.12* -.10*
10. Depression -.70* -.08 -.20*
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3.2 Materialism and Gratitude as Predictors of Adjustment
We next ﬁt a structural model in which materialism and gratitude predict GPA, envy,
depression, life satisfaction, social integration, and absorption, controlling for sex, age,
ethnic minority status, SES, and receipt of special education services. This is a saturated
structural model, which means that the ﬁt is equal to the CFA model described above.
Standardized latent regression coefﬁcients of materialism and gratitude predicting the six
aspects of adjustment are shown in Table 3, and can be interpreted as the unique relations
(i.e., controlling for the other) of materialism and gratitude to adjustment. Inspection of
these values indicates that gratitude, controlling for materialism, uniquely predicts all
outcomes considered: higher GPA, life satisfaction, social integration, and absorption, as
well as lower envy and depression. In contrast, materialism, after controlling for gratitude,
uniquely predicts three of the six outcomes: lower GPA, as well as higher envy and life
3.3 Relative Strengths of Materialism and Gratitude as Predictors
To further evaluate the relative predictive powers of materialism versus gratitude, we
compared the relative magnitudes of these regression paths. Speciﬁcally, for depression,
life satisfaction, social integration, and absorption (i.e., those outcomes for which the two
Fig. 1 Structural model of materialism and gratitude predicting adjustment. Notes. Model controls for age,
sex, ethnicity, SES, and receipt of special education services. Only statistically signiﬁcant (p \ .01)
predictive paths shown. Model ﬁt: v
= 1045.94, CFI = .96, RMSEA = .055
Gratitude and the Reduced Costs of Materialism 297
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regression paths were in the same direction), we ﬁt a series of nested models in which the
parallel paths (e.g., materialism predicting depression and gratitude predicting depression)
were constrained equally. For GPA and envy, in which the regression paths were of
opposite sign, we compared the absolute magnitudes of the materialism versus regression
paths by constraining one to equal the inverse of the other. We inspected the increase in
model misﬁt (Dv
) due to these constraints to evaluate whether this equality constraint was
tenable; if it was not (i.e., Dv
was high relative to Ddf), then we concluded that the
magnitudes of these paths were signiﬁcantly different. Results of these comparisons are
summarized in the rightmost column of Table 3. These ﬁndings indicate that gratitude is
generally a stronger predictor of these six outcomes than is materialism (though the dif-
ference in magnitude is only marginal, p = .055, for GPA).
Gratitude is an underexplored topic in youth (see Bono and Froh 2009 and Froh and Bono
2008, for reviews) with only two published studies demonstrating that gratitude inter-
ventions tend to boost gratitude and well-being in youth (Froh et al. 2008a, 2009a). In the
current study we found that grateful adolescents attained a higher GPA, were more socially
integrated, were higher in absorption and life satisfaction, and were less envious and
depressed than their less grateful counterparts. Furthermore, the relation between gratitude
and ﬁve of these six outcomes was stronger than that of materialism with these outcomes.
When combined with previous research, a clearer picture is beginning to emerge about the
beneﬁts of gratitude in adolescents, and thus an important gap in the literature on gratitude
and well-being is beginning to be ﬁlled.
Part of the reason why people who pursue intrinsic goals report greater well-being than
those who pursue extrinsic or materialistic goals (Kasser and Ryan 1996) is because
materialism erodes friendships (Kasser 2002). But gratitude may safeguard against this
erosion as it is related to perceived quality of relationships through both self-report (e.g.,
Wood et al. 2008) and peer-report (Algoe et al. 2008; Emmons and McCullough 2003).
Gratitude seems to inﬂuence intrinsic goal pursuit, other-oriented motivations, and the
Table 3 Unique predictions of materialism and gratitude to adjustment
Materialism Gratitude Comparison
GPA -.10* .22* 3.68, p = .055
Envy .17* -.32* 4.36, p \ .05
Depression -.08 -.51* 98.65, p \ .001
Life satisfaction .14* .79* 184.47, p \ .001
Social integration .03 .76* 314.77, p \ .001
Absorption .09 .41* 51.21, p \ .001
Values are standardized latent regression coefﬁcients in which Materialism and Gratitude were treated as
correlated predictors of the six outcome variables, controlling for age, sex, ethnicity, SES, and special
Comparisons in the magnitudes of the predictive relation of materialism versus gratitude to each aspect of
adjustment were evaluated using nested-model comparisons (see text for details), with values representing 1
* p \ .01
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fulﬁllment of higher-order needs (e.g., self-expression and purpose), whereas materialism
seems to fuel extrinsic goal pursuit, individualistic motivations, and the fulﬁllment of
lower-order needs (e.g., possessions of comfort and safety) (Kasser 2002; Polak and
For example, in a daily diary study examining undergraduate students’ gratitude and
materialism over a 2-week period, researchers found that on days when people were less
materialistic than usual, they also tended to be more grateful on that same day. This link
held after controlling for trait materialism, implying that gratitude is related to less
materialistic strivings, no matter how generally materialistic the person. Further, materi-
alism was related to increased social loneliness and conﬂicted exchanges, but gratitude was
related to even stronger decreases in these outcomes (Bono and Polak 2007). Helping to
explain the above patterns, others (Kashdan and Breen 2007) found that materialism was
negatively related with well-being by way of increased experiential avoidance (i.e.,
unwillingness to face negatively evaluated thoughts, feelings and sensations, as well as the
circumstances begetting such experiences). Together, these ﬁndings illustrate ways grati-
tude and materialism pull people toward different ways of being in the world—gratitude
promotes valuing connections to people, mindful growth, and social capital, whereas
materialism promotes valuing possessions, instant comfort, and social status.
Until the current study, however, it was unknown whether and how these effects occur
in youth. With gratitude and materialism having divergent associations with well-being
among adolescents, gratitude may prove useful for advancing many of the social devel-
opment goals increasingly addressed by schools. For example, there is evidence that strong
extrinsic values are linked to increased health risk behavior (in terms of tobacco, alcohol,
and marijuana use, as well as sexual activity) (Williams et al. 2000). Thus, gratitude may
aid ﬂourishing in youth because it motivates them to fulﬁll basic needs of personal growth,
relationships, and community—all of which reduce vulnerability to the main health risks
Materialism and life satisfaction were negatively correlated when examining the
bivariate relation between these variables, but they were positively correlated in the
structural model. Thus, it is possible that materialistic youth report higher levels of life
satisfaction because their material goods bring them happiness. The correlation between
materialism and life satisfaction may also hinge on the meaning and signiﬁcance of
materialism for particular individuals. To the extent that social interactions involve objects
and activities that seem materialistic on the surface (e.g., the latest digital gizmos), such
acquisitions may provide greater social inclusion. Furthermore, if gratitude is a stand-in for
‘‘intrinsic values’’ it suggests that the relation between materialism and life satisfaction is
mostly due to the problem of conﬂict between materialism and such values.
Some might argue that the relation between materialism and the main study variables is
due to the high socioeconomic status of our sample. In other words, is materialism related
with ill-being only for adolescents who presumably want for nothing and are concerned
with image (e.g., attending an Ivy League school after graduation)? In order to test this
possibility, we ﬁrst statistically controlled for socioeconomic status when conducting our
analyses, removing its effects on the outcomes. Second, youth from higher socioeconomic
backgrounds actually tend to be lower in materialism compared to youth from lower
socioeconomic backgrounds. Indeed, youth who live in areas of economic deprivation tend
to score particularly high on materialism (Nairn et al. 2007). Thus, it is unlikely that
materialism’s relationship with ill-being in our study was due to the high proportion of
‘‘rich’’ kids in our sample.
Gratitude and the Reduced Costs of Materialism 299
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One noteworthy limitation is our exclusive reliance on self-report data, which may have
artiﬁcially inﬂated our ﬁndings due to shared-reporter variance. Future research on grati-
tude in youth could beneﬁt from using multiple methods, including behavioral, physio-
logical, and informant (peer/parent/teacher) data to decrease the shared method variance.
For example, during a classroom break giving students the option to either socialize or help
their teacher could behaviorally measure gratitude’s function as a moral motive (i.e.,
igniting prosocial behavior; McCullough et al. 2001). A second limitation is that the
present study was cross-sectional, which limits our ability to make causal inferences.
Future researchers should employ longitudinal methods to draw conclusions of temporal
primacy among these constructs (e.g., Froh et al. 2009b). Furthermore, experimental
interventions focused on gratitude might also provide clarity of causal relations (e.g., Froh
et al. 2009a). Speciﬁcally, future researchers interested in studying gratitude interventions
in youth might want to consider materialism as an outcome. This would add to the liter-
ature because the two published studies examining gratitude interventions in youth (Froh
et al. 2008a, 2009a) focused exclusively on well-being as the outcome. As mentioned
above, researchers interested in such work should go beyond self-report and include
behavioral measures of materialism to increase the scientiﬁc rigor of the experiment. For
example, parents/guardians could submit their purchase receipts acquired over the past
week (or some other time frame) and indicate the purchases made at their child’s request.
Compelling data would indicate a signiﬁcant decrease in money spent on child purchase
requests after the intervention. Finally, our data are from students from one school in an
afﬂuent school district. Thus, our ﬁndings must be interpreted with caution due to the poor
generalizability, and future researchers are encouraged to use more diverse samples to
determine the extent of replication.
As gratitude involves wanting what one has rather than having what one wants,
instilling a sense of gratitude may help people appreciate the gifts of the moment and
experience freedom from past regrets and future anxieties. With gratitude comes the
realization that happiness is not contingent upon materialistic happenings in one’s life, but
rather from being embedded in caring networks of giving and receiving. And because
materialism causes the denigration of relationships—partly by fostering the view that
people are objects, things to be used for one’s beneﬁt (Kasser 2002)—methods and
messages encouraging non-materialistic values must become a priority if we want youth to
be ﬂourishing. If a growing interest in material things in youth continues to show links to
poorer school performance, negative attitudes about school, and unhappiness, then it will
undoubtedly elevate public concern (Goldberg et al. 2003). In the meanwhile, our data
suggest that encouraging gratitude may help counter this trend.
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