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Being grateful is beyond good manners: Gratitude and motivation to contribute to society among early adolescents

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Being grateful is beyond good manners: Gratitude and motivation to contribute to society among early adolescents

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Gratitude, a positive response to receiving a benefit, may contribute more to youth than just momentary happiness. It may ignite in youth a motivation for “upstream generativity” whereby its experience contributes to a desire to give back to their neighborhood, community, and world. We tested this notion by longitudinally examining early adolescents’ gratitude and their social integration, or motivation to use their strengths to help others and feel connected to others at a macro level. Middle school students (N=700) completed measures of gratitude, prosocial behavior, life satisfaction, and social integration at baseline (T1), 3-months (T2), and 6-months (T3) later. Using bootstrapping to examine multiple mediators, controlling for demographics and social integration at T1, we found that gratitude at T1 predicted social integration at T3 and that prosocial behavior and life satisfaction at T2 mediated the relation. Further mediational analyses showed that gratitude and social integration serially enhanced each other. This prospective evidence aligns well with the interpretation that gratitude may help to initiate upward spirals toward greater emotional and social well-being. Implications are discussed in terms of gratitude’s role in positive youth development. KeywordsGratitude-Social integration-Adolescents-Life satisfaction-Prosocial behavior
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ISSN 0146-7239, Volume 34, Number 2
ORIGINAL PAPER
Being grateful is beyond good manners: Gratitude and motivation
to contribute to society among early adolescents
Jeffrey J. Froh
Giacomo Bono
Robert Emmons
Published online: 30 April 2010
Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010
Abstract Gratitude, a positive response to receiving a
benefit, may contribute more to youth than just momentary
happiness. It may ignite in youth a motivation for
‘upstream generativity’ whereby its experience contrib-
utes to a desire to give back to their neighborhood, com-
munity, and world. We tested this notion by longitudinally
examining early adolescents’ gratitude and their social
integration, or motivation to use their strengths to help
others and feel connected to others at a macro level. Middle
school students (N = 700) completed measures of grati-
tude, prosocial behavior, life satisfaction, and social inte-
gration at baseline (T1), 3-months (T2), and 6-months (T3)
later. Using bootstrapping to examine multiple mediators,
controlling for demographics and social integration at T1,
we found that gratitude at T1 predicted social integration at
T3 and that prosocial behavior and life satisfaction at T2
mediated the relation. Further mediational analyses showed
that gratitude and social integration serially enhanced each
other. This prospective evidence aligns well with the
interpretation that gratitude may help to initiate upward
spirals toward greater emotional and social well-being.
Implications are discussed in terms of gratitude’s role in
positive youth development.
Keywords Gratitude Social integration Adolescents
Life satisfaction Prosocial behavior
Being thankful isn’t just saying thanks. It’s a divine
feeling that isn’t hideable. When you truly are thankful
you will do something in return because you owe it to
the person and society.
—Gratitude essay from an 11 year-old male research
participant (Froh 2007).
Being grateful may build and strengthen social bonds
and friendships (Emmons and Shelton 2002; Fredrickson
2004; Komter 2004). Gratitude, ‘a sense of joy and
thankfulness in response to receiving a gift’ (Emmons
2004, p. 554), enables one to notice, understand, and cap-
italize off beneficial exchanges with others (McCullough
et al. 2008). But when in life does such mature social
understanding reliably emerge? Some suggest that as
children become less egocentric and enter early adoles-
cence, the ability to empathize strengthens (Saarni 1999).
This ability may be the strongest developmental catalyst of
gratitude, as it enables the social-cognitive determinants
needed to appreciate and reciprocate the conditions of
benefit-giving situations (McCullough et al. 2001). Spe-
cifically, because gratitude is a complex emotion and is
experienced insofar as one can appraise the personal value
of a benefit and the intent of and cost to a benefactor
(Tesser et al. 1968; Wood et al. 2008), it may not be until
early adolescence (ages 10–14) that children can reliably
experience genuine gratitude and reap its psychological
and relational benefits (see Bono and Froh 2009; Froh and
Bono 2008, for reviews). Gratitude probably matures by
age 10 (Emmons and Shelton 2002). Indeed, it is only after
Jeffrey J. Froh and Giacomo Bono have contributed equally to this
article.
J. J. Froh (&)
Department of Psychology, Hofstra University, 210 Hauser Hall,
Hempstead, NY 11549, USA
e-mail: Jeffrey.Froh@hofstra.edu
G. Bono
Whittier College, Whittier, CA, USA
R. Emmons
University of California, Davis, CA, USA
123
Motiv Emot (2010) 34:144–157
DOI 10.1007/s11031-010-9163-z
Author's personal copy
children’s empathy develops enough for them to compre-
hend others’ intentions to contribute to their life satisfac-
tion—which seems to be in place by age 10 (Park and
Peterson 2006)—that they may be able to start experienc-
ing gratitude as adults do. Thus, the current study examines
the relation between gratitude and social integration and
the mechanisms for such a relation in early adolescence
hoping to capture an early developmental period where one
can experience and benefit from genuine gratitude.
Early adolescence may constitute a key period when
children can truly begin to benefit from an ability to
understand and appreciate intentional acts of kindness from
others and experience gratitude. It is when adolescents
exhibit a readiness to establish supportive social bonds that
match their intrinsic interests (Saarni 1999) and when they
begin relying on these bonds more and more for under-
standing and describing their identity (Montemayor and
Eisen 1977). It is at this time that adolescents start navi-
gating the challenges of exploring and committing to adult
social roles and developing industriousness (Marcia 1980).
In short, early adolescence is when children may begin
capitalizing purposefully on the positive investments and
inputs of others. Gratitude can help them secure and build
important resources (e.g., assistance and cooperation from
others, opportunities, and knowledge) and establish sup-
portive, fulfilling relationships early on—all benefits that
are mutually reinforcing in development. Thus, gratitude
may be a vital social skill for adolescents because it can
broaden their horizons so that they can purposefully
approach the future.
Gratitude and positive youth development
Gratitude, then, may aid adolescents’ development by
fostering both a general sense of connectedness to others,
the community and society at large as well as a motivation
to use one’s strengths to broadly contribute to these enti-
ties. Indeed, a sense of gratitude for being able to both
participate in what the world has to offer and make a
unique contribution was a very common characteristic
among highly purposeful youth (Damon 2008). This pur-
poseful state of being may help the young teen embark on
the tasks of articulating, sharing, and building the self-
narrative (Gergen and Gergen 1988; McAdams 2001) upon
which a robust personal identity is based (Niederhoffer and
Pennebaker 2002). In particular, we propose that as a moral
behavior in beneficiaries, gratitude helps young adolescents
achieve greater social integration (Durkheim 1951; Keyes
1998), defined as, ‘being passionate about helping and
feeling connected to others at a macro level (e.g., neigh-
borhood and community)’ (Froh et al. 2010a, p. 6). Social
integration was shown to be associated negatively with
depression, envy, delinquency, and antisocial behavior and
associated positively with a higher grade point average, life
satisfaction, positive affect, self-esteem, hope, and happi-
ness (Froh et al. 2010a). Moreover, Froh et al. (2010a)
obtained such associations via self, peer, and teacher report
using cross-sectional and longitudinal data. Thus, a link
between gratitude and social integration would help to
explain why gratitude may foster both intrapsychic and
interpersonal well-being and promote optimal functioning
in multiple realms of life (Emmons 2007).
Gratitude is a typical emotional response when people
receive a personal gift or benefit that was not earned,
deserved, or expected, but instead due to the good inten-
tions of another person (Emmons and McCullough 2003).
People are grateful when they notice and appreciate the
good things that happen to them and when they express
thanks to those responsible (Emmons 2007). As a moral
emotion, gratitude promotes beneficial exchanges and
relationships between people and the welfare of society at
large (Haidt 2003), a view that has long been shared by
religions and cultures across the globe (Emmons and
Crumpler 2000). Considered an important virtue for psy-
chological and social well-being, gratitude furnishes people
with meaningfulness and expands their sense of connection
to include other people or communities, nature, God, or
another spiritual force (Emmons 2007).
Though many studies using adult populations have
shown that gratitude does, in fact, tune people into valuable
relationships (Algoe et al. 2008), reinforce the kind
behaviors of benefactors, and even spur prosocial behavior
in beneficiaries (for a review, see Emmons and McCul-
lough 2004), the origins and early benefits of gratitude
remain largely uncharted. Gratitude may help youth foster
prosocial relationships, self-esteem and competence, well-
being, and purpose in life (Bono and Froh 2009; Froh and
Bono 2008), but evidence from research using youth pop-
ulations remains scant. The purpose of this study was to
examine whether gratitude is longitudinally related to
increases in an important indicator of adolescent social
well-being, social integration, and if gratitude and social
integration serially enhance each other.
Gratitude, well-being, and thriving
Social belonging is among the most essential resources for
humans’ survival (Ainsworth 1989; Bowlby 1982; Buss
1990; Deci and Ryan 2000), and caring ties can buffer
people from adversity and pathology as well as enhance
their health and well-being throughout life (Baumeister and
Leary 1995; House et al. 1988). Some even suggest ‘that
nature has designed the human psyche for participation in
cultural society’ (Baumeister 2005, p. 6). That is, beyond
Motiv Emot (2010) 34:144–157 145
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people simply being social animals like other species—
interacting with a community so as to satisfy basic need
and goals (e.g., food, protection)—humans evolved the
distinct capacity to maintain, transmit, and accumulate
information in a cultural context (Baumeister 2005). With
gratitude being a moral emotion that promotes prosocial
behavior (McCullough et al. 2001) and supports the
forming and strengthening of supportive relationships
between people (Algoe et al. 2008; Emmons 2007), it is
possible that gratitude may aid social integration and help
people contribute to the collective.
Research with adults overwhelmingly indicates that
gratitude is strongly linked to healthy psychological and
social functioning (McCullough et al. 2002; Watkins
2004). Compared with less grateful people, grateful people
report experiencing more life satisfaction, optimism,
vitality, and less depression and envy. Grateful individuals
also endorse high levels of agreeableness, extraversion,
openness, and low levels of neuroticism (McCullough et al.
2002). Grateful people also tend to be more prosocial. That
is, they are more helpful, supportive, forgiving, and
empathic toward others (McCullough et al. 2002). Feeling
grateful, in fact, causes people to respond prosocially to
benefactors (Bartlett and DeSteno 2006; Tsang 2006, 2007)
and unrelated others (Bartlett and DeSteno 2006; Nowak
and Roch 2007). Other research on adults (Overwalle et al.
1995; Watkins et al. 2003) has also shown that grateful
people tend to experience greater positive emotions, such
as more frequent contentment, happiness, and hope, as well
as fewer negative emotions.
The regular experience of positive emotions can make
people healthier and more resilient, fueling an upward
spiral of optimal functioning, well-being, and development
(Fredrickson 2001; Fredrickson and Joiner 2002). The
broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions suggests
that, unlike negative emotions which narrow our focus and
restrict our behavioral range, positive emotions yield
nonspecific action tendencies beyond physical action.
Further, positive emotions generate broad thought-action
repertoires that ultimately build enduring physical, intel-
lectual, and social resources (Fredrickson 2001). For
instance, positive emotions broaden problem-solving
strategies (Fredrickson and Branigan 2005) and can undo
the aftereffects of negative emotions (Fredrickson et al.
2000). Indeed, one reason resilient people bounce back
from negative life events better is that they experience
positive emotions regularly and use them more often in
response to stressful situations (Tugade and Fredrickson
2004). Gratitude may engage this upward spiral (Fred-
rickson 2004). For example, after compassion, gratitude
was the second most common emotion experienced after
the September 11 attacks in 2001, and it appeared to be a
powerful factor in helping people cope with the disaster
(Fredrickson et al. 2003). Such effects may have occurred
with youth too. For example, in an archival study of
newspaper accounts of things children were thankful for,
themes of gratitude for basic human needs (e.g., family,
friends, and teachers) were found to increase after 9/11
(Gordon et al. 2004). There is no way to tell, however, if
positive emotions helped the children cope with the
disaster.
Evidence that gratitude is related with well-being in
youth has only recently started to emerge, and most of it
rests on research using correlational methods administered
at single points in time. For instance, among early ado-
lescents, gratitude was found to be negatively related with
physical symptoms and positively related with positive
affect, perceptions of peer and familial social support,
optimism, providing emotional support, and satisfaction
with school, family, community, friends, and self (Froh
et al.
2009b). And among late adolescents, gratitude was
positively related with life satisfaction, social integration,
absorption, and academic achievement and negatively
related with envy, depression, and materialism (Froh et al.
2010d). Other research with adolescents indicates that
strong social ties and a sense of engagement with others are
significant predictors of achievement (Appleton et al. 2008;
Froh et al. 2010a) and of immediate and long-term personal
well-being (Froh et al. 2010a). Thus, gratitude seems
related to various indicators of psychological and social
functioning in youth as it is with adults.
Because gratitude acts in tandem with other positive
emotions to boost well-being and success in life (Fred-
rickson 2004), gratitude may have benefits that are unique
to adolescents. For instance, in early adolescents it is
strongly linked to hope (Froh et al. 2009b). Hope triggers
planning for achieving goals, and planning produces action.
It also increases trust in others (Dunn and Schweitzer 2005),
which should buoy youths’ efforts to identify strengths and
face new challenges (Marcia 1980). Moreover, because
gratitude strengthens and builds relationships, it should help
academically beyond its relation with self-reported GPA
(Froh et al. 2010d). Adolescents with high quality friend-
ships fare better in school (Rubin et al. 2006). So it makes
sense that gratitude in youths is also related to trust and
satisfaction with life in multiple domains (Froh et al.
2009b). Youths who are unsatisfied with their lives exhibit
more aggression, sexual risk-taking, substance use, poor
eating and physical inactivity (Huebner et al. 2006); and if
they dislike school, they are more likely to lag in academic
functioning, extracurricular activity, and connecting to
school (Huebner and Gilman 2006). Feeling connected to
school is a chief determinant of low risk behavior and
academic growth (Resnick et al. 1997). Thus, gratitude may
engage other social emotional skills for building character,
success and well-being in human development.
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The most convincing evidence that gratitude can improve
youth well-being comes from three gratitude intervention
studies. In one study (Froh et al. 2008), early adolescents
instructed to count up to five things for which they were
grateful (i.e., gratitude condition) reported more gratitude,
optimism, and life satisfaction, as well as less negative
affect, compared to those who counted things they found
annoying (i.e., hassles condition). In another study (Froh
et al. 2009a), children and adolescents low in positive affect
who wrote and personally delivered a gratitude letter to a
benefactor, compared to those who kept journals about daily
events, reported greater gratitude and positive affect at post-
treatment and greater positive affect at the 2-month follow-
up. Finally, in a third study (Froh et al. 2010b), children
taught how to think gratefully, compared to those in an
attention-control group, reported more grateful thinking,
gratitude, and happiness (per self and teacher reports) and
also wrote more thank you cards to their parent teacher
association. Some of these effects even held 3–5 months
later. Thus, experimental evidence demonstrates that being
grateful can help a young person experience long lasting
boosts to their well-being.
Life satisfaction, prosocial behavior, and motivation
to contribute to society
Life satisfaction (LS) and prosocial behavior constitute two
developmental mechanisms through which gratitude is
presumed to obtain its salubrious effects (Froh et al. 2009b;
Graham 1988; Park and Peterson 2006). LS, or the sub-
jective appraisal of the quality of one’s life (Diener et al.
1999), is a critical strength for youth. Considered an indi-
cator of optimal functioning (Suldo and Huebner 2006), LS
has been found to predict later externalizing and internal-
izing behaviors as well as experiences of peer victimization
among adolescents (Haranin et al. 2007; Martin et al.
2008), and adolescents who have higher levels of LS are
also less likely to exhibit externalizing behaviors in the
aftermath of significant life stressors (Suldo and Huebner
2004). To the extent that LS is related to positive affect
(Diener et al. 1999), it may not only be the result of
successful outcomes in life but also the cause of them
(Lyubomirsky et al. 2005); and this may be the case in
multiple domains of life too. In fact, gratitude may help
change a person in fundamental ways. When people are
made to feel grateful they become more satisfied with life
and it is gratitude’s relationship with LS that accounts for a
reduction in materialistic values (Lambert et al. 2009a).
This suggests that gratitude helps prompt in people a
‘broadened’ view of their lives that can even serve to alter
their pursuits and goals away towards greater emotional
(rather than material) gratification and well-being. Thus,
LS would seem important for adaptive development across
the life span.
Prosocial behavior is also critical to human development
because it affects the quality of interactions between people
and among groups. It facilitates cooperation and connects
individuals to resources that are crucial for humans’ sur-
vival (Trivers 1971). When individuals help others they not
only benefit those people but they benefit themselves too.
People can experience improved physical and mental
health when they help others (Schwartz and Sendor 2000)
or volunteer (Omoto and Snyder 1995; Wilson and Musick
1999). In fact, providing instrumental support to others has
even been linked to reduced mortality (Brown et al. 2003).
Consistent findings have been obtained with adolescents as
well. Altruism was found to be positively associated with
health for females and with well-being for males and
females (Schwartz et al. 2009). In particular, helping that is
provided autonomously yields benefits for both the helper
(and the recipient) because it satisfies essential psycho-
logical needs (Weinstein and Ryan 2010).
Because people feel grateful when they receive aid or
gifts that they consider personally valuable or that they see
as being provided intentionally by, or at some cost to, a
benefactor, gratitude orients people to the things and social
exchanges in their lives that sustain or enhance their wel-
fare (McAdams 2001; McAdams and Bauer
2004). Grati-
tude also increases their sense of interpersonal trust and
imbeddedness in caring relationships (Dunn and Schweit-
zer 2005). This may also elicit positive expectations about
future exchanges with others. Consistent with this view that
gratitude can positively shift the way individuals view
themselves and others, recent evidence indicates that
gratitude lends individuals a sense of coherence in life,
precisely because it causes them to positively frame events
and circumstances (Lambert et al. 2009b). For these rea-
sons, then, we expect that gratitude would bring greater
satisfaction with life, energize prosocial behavior, and
motivate youth to contribute to the lives of others and to
society in general. These predictions follow from the social
evolutionary role gratitude is assumed to play in facilitating
humans’ cooperation with non-kin and in sustaining reci-
procal altruism (McCullough et al. 2008; Nowak and Roch
2007). McCullough et al. (2008) raised the possibility that
gratitude evolved to facilitate social exchange. Compelling
evidence suggests that gratitude evolved to stimulate not
only direct reciprocal altruism but also ‘upstream reci-
procity’ (Nowak and Roch 2007): the passing on of ben-
efits to third parties instead of returning benefits to one’s
benefactors.
Therefore, gratitude’s association with increases in
social connectedness may foster a broader motivation to
connect with others in meaningful ways. Such an inter-
pretation would be consistent with the contrary finding that
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social exclusion can be harmful (Stillman et al. 2009).
Stillman et al. (2009) found that when people’s belong-
ingness needs are threatened by experiences of social
rejection or ongoing loneliness they perceive less meaning
in their lives, compared to when their belongingness needs
are met. Thus, feeling embedded in a caring social network
and world may help foster a sense of meaningfulness and
purpose. Purpose ‘is a stable and generalized intention to
accomplish something that is at once meaningful to the self
and of consequence to the world beyond the self’ (Damon
et al. 2003, p. 121). By accomplishing something that is of
consequence to the world beyond the self, a person tran-
scends one’s own limited interests in pursuing a lasting,
useful contribution to society. It therefore cannot occur in
isolation from others.
Contribution to society represents the ultimate mani-
festation of positive youth development (Lerner 2004).
When youth have a moral, civic, and spiritual commitment
to contributing to others and institutions beyond them-
selves in time and place they are more likely to be
advancing their own positive development as well as the
health of their social world (Lerner et al. 2003). It is such
‘mutually beneficial and sustaining exchanges between
individuals and contexts’ that enable youth to thrive
developmentally and that help society thrive civically
(Lerner et al. 2003, p. 174). Scholars have long suspected
that gratitude engenders generativity (i.e., contributing to
society by nurturing younger generations) later in life
(McCullough et al. 2001; Emmons 2007). The only evi-
dence to support this notion so far, though, did not involve
a direct investigation of whether actual experiences of
gratitude predicted later generativity (Peterson and Stewart
1996). Evidence that gratitude predicts an internalized
motivation to make a contribution to one’s neighborhood,
community, and world would provide an important step
toward more directly examining the tenability of this
notion.
The current investigation
The aim of this study was to investigate whether gratitude
is longitudinally associated with an important indicator of
psychological and social well-being, social integration, and
to examine if gratitude and social integration serially
enhance each other. Social integration encompasses a
prosocial and purposeful orientation of wanting to make a
unique contribution to one’s community and world.
Beyond the assessment of static states of well-being (i.e.,
that depend on a momentary sense of the quality of one’s
life) such a construct represents a vital marker of thriving
because it reflects an orientation that unifies individuals’
ultimate concerns (Emmons 1999) with their desire to help
others, their community, and world—thus providing them
with a certain level of coherence in their psychological and
social functioning (Froh et al. 2010a). The socially inte-
grated adolescent can be said to be thriving because he has
an internalized motivation to be engaged in ‘healthy,
positive relations with his or her community’ and be
moving toward ‘making culturally valued contributions to
self, others, and institutions’ (Lerner et al. 2003, p. 173).
As a construct, then, social integration is important to
measure in children and adolescents because it maximizes
their chances of finding a purpose and, in turn, attaining a
social network that supports such efforts (Damon 2008).
This study represents the first longitudinal investigation
of gratitude among early adolescents and a vital marker of
their thriving—social integration, or their motivation to
contribute to a unifying purpose in their life and to people
and society. In particular, we examined if participants who
are more grateful were also more socially integrated than
their less grateful counterparts 6 months later, after con-
trolling for demographics and baseline social integration
levels. We also examined if overall life satisfaction and
prosocial behavior at 3 months mediated any association
we found between gratitude and later social integration. In
other words, we tested whether gratitude as a trait was
related prospectively to individuals’ social integration and
whether life satisfaction and prosocial behavior both
served as mediators in gratitude’s longitudinal association
with social integration. Further, because it is possible that
a more socially integrated person may be more grateful
later on, we also tested an alternate model whereby we
examined the association between social integration and
gratitude 6 months later (after controlling for demo-
graphics and baseline gratitude levels) and whether life
satisfaction and prosocial orientation served as mediators
in this longitudinal relationship. Finally, building off of
the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions, we
examined if gratitude and social integration serially
influence each other.
Method
Participants
Participants were 700 middle school students (mean
age = 11.74 years, SD = .89, range = 10–14 years) from
one public school in a city in Long Island, New York.
Students were in grades 6 (40.4%), 7 (31.5%), and 8
(28.1%) within an affluent district (district median house-
hold income = $94,339; state median household income =
$43,393). Most were Caucasian (70.8%), about half were
female (51.7%), and 14.4% reported receiving special
education services.
148 Motiv Emot (2010) 34:144–157
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Measures
Gratitude adjective checklist (GAC; McCullough et al.
2002)
The GAC is the sum of three adjectives: grateful, thankful,
and appreciative. A Likert scale from 1 (very slightly or not
at all) to 5 (extremely) followed each item. It has demon-
strated good internal consistency in adult samples
(a = .87; McCullough et al. 2002), and convergent and
discriminant validity has been established in adolescent
samples (Froh et al. 2007, 2008). Students were asked to
rate the amount they experienced each feeling ‘during the
past few weeks.’ In the current sample, the GAC demon-
strated good internal consistency (a = .83). Although other
dispositional measures of gratitude exist (e.g., the Gratitude
Questionnaire-6; McCullough et al. 2002), we chose the
GAC for this study because when the data for the current
study were collected it was the only validated gratitude
scale for adolescents (see Froh et al. 2007 for a review). To
allay concerns about construct validity, it should be noted
that the GAC and GQ-6 are correlated at .58 for 10–11 year
olds and .45 for 12–13 year olds, p’s \.001 (Froh et al.
2010c).
Child social behaviour questionnaire (CSBQ; Warden
et al. 2003)
The CSBQ yields scores using 12 behavioral dimensions for
four factors: two antisocial factors, a prosocial factor, and a
victim factor. (We used the prosocial factor, which has eight
items.) After reading the sentence stem, ‘How often have
you participants respond to questions such as, ‘Helped
another child in your class with their work?’ using the
response options, ‘Never,’ ‘Sometimes,’ or ‘Often.’ It
has demonstrated acceptable internal consistency in youth
samples (a = .68 for the prosocial measure). In the current
sample, the prosocial factor demonstrated good internal
consistency (a = .80).
Multidimensional students’ satisfaction with life scale
(MSSLS; Huebner 1994)
The MSSLS is a 40-item measure using a Likert scale from
1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree) that assesses life
satisfaction in five domains: family, school, self, living
environment, and friends. Across several studies (Green-
spoon and Saklofske 1997; Huebner 1994; Huebner et al.
1998), internal consistency for the MSSLS ranges between
the .70s to low .90s. Test–retest coefficients for 2- and
4-week time periods fall mostly between .70 and .90
(Huebner et al. 1998). A sample item for the family factor
is, ‘I like spending time with my parents;’ a sample item
for the school factor is, ‘I look forward to going to
school;’ a sample item for the self factor is, ‘I like
myself;’’ a sample item for the living environment factor is,
‘I like my neighborhood;’ and a sample item for the
friends factor is, ‘My friends will help me if I need it.’ In
the current sample, the MSSLS demonstrated good internal
consistency (a = .89).
The engaged living in youth scale (ELYS; Froh et al.
2010a)
The ELYS is a 15-item measure of social integration and
absorption using a Likert scale from 1 (definitely not like
me) to 6 (exactly like me). We used the social integration
factor, which has nine items. In a sample of early and late
adolescents, internal consistency for the social integration
factor ranged from .73 to .89 and test–retest reliability was
the following: 2-weeks, r =
.84, 3-months, r = .72, and
6-months, r = .70, (p’s \ .001). Furthermore, adolescents
high in social integration reported elevated levels of hope,
meaning, self-esteem, happiness, and positive affect and
reduced levels of depression, negative affect, antisocial
behavior, envy, and materialism (Froh et al. 2010a). A
sample item is, ‘I love helping people.’ In the current
sample, the social integration factor demonstrated good
internal consistency (a = .89).
Procedure
Students enrolled in mandatory curriculum were sought for
participation to increase the odds of obtaining a represen-
tative sample of the school. The first author 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. 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 question-
naires in classrooms. Students completed the GAC and
social integration subscale at T1, the prosocial behavior
and life satisfaction scales at T2 (3-months later), and the
GAC and social integration subscale at T3 (6-months later).
Results
Correlations
We initially conducted zero-order correlations (see
Table 1). The demographic variables were dummy coded
Motiv Emot (2010) 34:144–157 149
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(gender: 0 = male, 1 = female; ethnicity: 0 = white,
1 = non-white; services: 0 = not receiving special edu-
cation services, 1 = receiving special education services).
From this table, we see that gratitude at T1 has medium
associations with prosocial behavior and life satisfaction at
T2. Furthermore, like prosocial behavior and life satisfac-
tion at T2, gratitude at T1 also has a medium to strong
association with social integration at T3.
Multiple-mediator model
Following recent recommendations about the interpretation
of indirect effects (e.g., MacKinnon et al. 2002; MacKin-
non et al. 2004; Preacher and Hayes 2004, 2008), we used a
sampling with replacement, bias-corrected and accelerated,
bootstrapping procedure (5,000 samples of N = 700) for
examining the statistical significance of all indirect (med-
iated) paths. See Preacher and Hayes (2004, 2008) for more
information about the advantages of bootstrapping and also
comparison with the Baron and Kenny (1986) causal steps
approach.) Using longitudinal data to examine mediation is
preferred over cross-sectional data because temporal order
is accounted for (i.e., causal priority can be established;
Preacher and Hayes 2004; e.g., Conger et al. 1990).
Therefore, controlling for gender, age, ethnicity, special
education services, and social integration at T1, we then
tested a model where gratitude at T1 predicts prosocial
behavior and life satisfaction at T2, which in turn predicts
social integration at T3. Following the recommendation of
Preacher and Hayes (2008), we tested a model with mul-
tiple mediators because the effect of an independent vari-
able on an outcome is likely transmitted by several means.
Furthermore, ‘when multiple mediators are entertained, it
is often more convenient, precise, and parsimonious to
include them in the same model’ (p. 887).
As noted earlier, bootstrapped estimates were used to
examine the indirect effects of gratitude at T1 on social
integration at T3 via prosocial behavior and life satisfaction
at T2 controlling for demographic variables and social
integration at T1. The interpretation of our findings is that,
taken together, prosocial behavior and life satisfaction
mediate the effect of gratitude on social integration. The
total effect of gratitude on social integration is .33, p \ .05,
and the direct effect of gratitude on social integration is
.19, p = .14. The difference between the total and direct
effects is the total indirect effect through the two mediators
with a point estimate of .14 and a 95% BCa (bias corrected
and accelerated) bootstrap CI of .06–.24. Because zero
does not fall into this interval, we can therefore claim that
the difference between the total and direct effects of grat-
itude on social integration is different from zero. Thus, the
total indirect effect of the two mediators is significant. The
directions of the paths from gratitude to the mediators and
the mediators to social integration are consistent with the
interpretation that greater gratitude at T1 is related with
greater prosocial behavior and life satisfaction at T2, which
in turn is related with greater social integration at T3. An
examination of the specific indirect effects indicates that
prosocial behavior (95% BCa CI = .02–.13) and life sat-
isfaction (95% BCa CI = .02–.15) are mediators because
their 95% CIs do not contain zero. This indicates that zero
is not likely a potential value for the indirect effect ab,
which is a (the path between the predictor and mediator)
multiplied by b (the path between the mediator and crite-
rion), the necessary requirement for mediation to exist
(Preacher and Hayes 2004, 2008).
Table 1 Zero-order correlations, means, and standard deviations among demographic variables, T1 social integration, T1 gratitude, T2 prosocial
behavior, T2 life satisfaction, and T3 social integration
Variable 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
1. Gender .03 -.05 -.10* .26** .19** .18** .17** .22**
2. Age -.04 .05 -.10* -.06 .05 -.00 -.07
3. Ethnicity -.00 -.03 -.05 .10* -.07 -.05
4. SPED Services .01 -.05 .04 -.08 -.00
5. T1 Social integration .49** .40** .40** .70**
6. T1 Gratitude .30** .30** .41**
7. T2 Prosocial behavior .28** .41**
8. T2 Life satisfaction .45**
9. T3 Social integration
M 11.74 41.34 12.77 13.93 191.98 41.02
SD .89 7.09 1.96 2.81 21.27 7.67
SPED = Special education. T1 = baseline. T2 = 3-months. T3 = 6-months
* p \.05, ** p \ .001
150 Motiv Emot (2010) 34:144–157
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In sum, controlling for demographic variables and social
integration at T1, greater gratitude at T1 is related with
greater social integration at T3 both directly and indirectly
via greater prosocial behavior and life satisfaction at T2.
These relationships are summarized in Table 2 and Fig. 1.
Alternative model
To help clarify temporal order, controlling for gender,
age, ethnicity, special education services, and gratitude at
T1, we then tested an alternative model where social
integration at T1 predicts prosocial behavior and life sat-
isfaction at T2, which in turn predicts gratitude at T3. The
interpretation of our findings is that, taken together, pro-
social behavior and life satisfaction mediate the effect of
social integration on gratitude. The total effect of social
integration on gratitude is .08, p \ .001, and the direct
effect of social integration on gratitude is .06, p \ .001.
The difference between the total and direct effects is the
total indirect effect through the two mediators with a point
estimate of .02 and a 95% BCa bootstrap CI of .01–.04.
Because zero does not fall into this interval, we can
therefore claim that the difference between the total and
direct effects of social integration on gratitude is different
from zero. Thus, the total indirect effect of the two medi-
ators is significant. The directions of the paths from social
integration to the mediators and the mediators to gratitude
are consistent with the interpretation that greater social
integration at T1 is related with greater prosocial behavior
and life satisfaction at T2, which in turn is related with
greater gratitude at T3. But the direct effect of prosocial
behavior at T2 on gratitude at T3 is not statistically sig-
nificant, p = 31. An examination of the specific indirect
effects indicates that, for the reasons noted above, prosocial
behavior (95% BCa CI =-.00–.01) is not a mediator
because its 95% CI contains zero, whereas life satisfaction
(95% BCa CI = .01–.03) is a mediator because its 95% CI
does not contain zero.
In sum, controlling for demographic variables and
gratitude at T1, greater social integration at T1 is related
with greater gratitude at T3 both directly and indirectly via
greater life satisfaction at T2, but not indirectly via greater
prosocial behavior at T2.
Table 2 SE and t-values for gratitude at T1 predicting social inte-
gration at T3 (6-months) through prosocial behavior and life satis-
faction at T2 (3-months) controlling for demographic variables and
social integration at T1
Paths SE t
Gender ? social integration T3 .47 .57
Age ? social integration T3 .25 -.52
Ethnicity ? social integration T3 .50 -.14
SPED services ? social integration T3 .65 .32
Social integration T1 ? social integration T3 .04 14.72***
Gratitude ? social integration c .13 2.45*
Gratitude ? social integration c
0
.13 1.46
Gratitude ? prosocial behavior .06 3.00**
Gratitude ? life satisfaction .47 2.33*
Prosocial behavior ? social integration .09 3.85***
Life satisfaction ? social integration .01 6.01***
SPED = Special education. The model summary for predicting social
integration is, R
2
.54, F (8, 553) = 80.79, p \ .001
* p \ .05, ** p \ .01, *** p \ .001
Prosocial
Behavior T2
Life
Satisfaction T2
Social
Integration T3
.19**
1.10*
.34***
.07**
.33*
c
.19
Gratitude T1
c
Fig. 1 Unstandardized
coefficients for gratitude at T1
predicting prosocial behavior
and life satisfaction at T2
(3-months) in turn predicting
social integration at T3
(6-months) controlling for
demographic variables and
social integration at T1.
Note: The following are the
unstandardized coefficients
for the demographic variables
and social integration at T1
predicting social integration
at T3: gender, .27; age, -.13;
ethnicity, -.07; special
education services, .20; social
integration at T1, .58**.
*p\ .05, ** p \ .01,
*** p \ .001
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Do gratitude and social integration serially influence
each other?
We hypothesized that gratitude and social integration
would serially influence each other. Therefore, controlling
for gender, age, ethnicity, special education services, and
social integration at T1, we tested a model where gratitude
at T1 predicts social integration at T3, which in turn pre-
dicts gratitude at T3.
1
The interpretation of our findings is
that social integration mediates the effect of gratitude at T1
on gratitude at T3. The total effect of gratitude at T1 on
gratitude at T3 is .32, p \ .001, and the direct effect of
gratitude at T1 on gratitude at T3 is .29, p \ .001. The
difference between the total and direct effects is the total
indirect effect through the mediator with a point estimate
of .03 and a 95% BCa bootstrap CI of .01–.06. Because
zero does not fall into this interval, we can therefore claim
that the difference between the total and direct effects of
gratitude at T1 on gratitude at T3 is different from zero.
Thus, the total indirect effect of the mediator is significant.
The directions of the paths from gratitude to social inte-
gration and social integration to gratitude are consistent
with the interpretation that greater gratitude at T1 is related
with greater social integration at T3, which in turn is
related with greater gratitude at T3. An examination of the
specific indirect effects indicates that social integration
(95% BCa CI = .01–.06) is a mediator because its 95% CI
does not contain zero.
Next we tested another model where, controlling for
gender, age, ethnicity, special education services, and
gratitude at T1, social integration at T1 predicts gratitude at
T3, which in turn predicts social integration at T3. The
interpretation of our findings is that gratitude mediates the
effect of social integration at T1 on social integration at T3.
The total effect of social integration at T1 on social inte-
gration at T3 is .69, p \.001, and the direct effect of social
integration at T1 on social integration at T3 is .60,
p \ .001. The difference between the total and direct
effects is the total indirect effect through the mediator with
a point estimate of .09 and a 95% BCa bootstrap CI of .06–
.13. Because zero does not fall into this interval, we can
therefore claim that the difference between the total and
direct effects of social integration at T1 on social integra-
tion at T3 is different from zero. Thus, the total indirect
effect of the mediator is significant. The directions of the
paths from social integration to gratitude and gratitude to
social integration are consistent with the interpretation that
greater social integration at T1 is related with greater
gratitude at T3, which in turn is related with greater social
integration at T3. An examination of the specific indirect
effects indicates that gratitude (95% BCa CI = .06–.13) is
a mediator because its 95% CI does not contain zero.
Together, these findings suggest that gratitude predicts
itself partly via social integration, and that social integra-
tion predicts itself partly via gratitude. Gratitude and social
integration, then, mutually build on one another (see
Fig. 2).
Discussion
Gratitude is more than a feeling (McAdams and Bauer
2004) as it drives people to return the benefit we have
received (Simmel 1950). Gratitude has a clearly specified
action tendency connected to it, as stipulated by social
psychologists (Lazarus and Lazarus 1994; Schwartz 1967).
Inherent in gratitude is its power to evoke a focus by the
recipient on the benevolence of others, thereby ensuring a
perception that kindness has been offered; and its beneficial
consequences frequently are the motive to respond favor-
ably toward another. There is an energizing and motivating
quality to gratitude. It is a positive state of mind that gives
rise to the ‘passing on of the gift’ through positive action.
As such, gratitude serves as a key link in the dynamic
between receiving and giving. It is not only a response to
kindnesses received, but it is also a motivator of future
benevolent actions on the part of the recipient. In the lan-
guage of evolutionary dynamics, gratitude leads to
‘upstream reciprocity’ (Nowak and Roch 2007) or the
passing on of benefits to third parties instead of returning
benefits to one’s benefactors. As much of human life is
about giving, receiving, and repaying, gratitude is a pivotal
concept for human social interactions.
Gratitude
Social Integration
Gratitude
Social Integration
Gratitude
Fig. 2 Gratitude and social integration in an upward spiral
1
Unfortunately, we were unable to test gratitude and social
integration as mediators at T2 because these data were not collected
in the second wave of data collection. Therefore, we modeled our
analyses after Fredrickson and Joiner (2002) and tested models where
the mediators and outcome are at the same time point, in this case T3.
152 Motiv Emot (2010) 34:144–157
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Our purpose in this study was to examine, in early
adolescents, gratitude’s contribution to a motivation to pass
on gifts, social integration. We did find support for this
hypothesis in our study. Gratitude at one point in time
predicted social integration 6 months later. As longitudinal
investigations go, this was a relatively short period of time.
Yet because this is the first known study that has linked
grateful affect with social well-being over time, the study
makes an important and novel contribution. Youth who are
socially integrated want to use their unique strengths to
give back to others and make the world better. Gratitude
leads to more immediate and longer-term well-being in
adolescents because it predicts social integration. Gratitude
thus promotes both intrapersonal and interpersonal well-
being. Competent functioning in these two domains is
considered a marker of successful development and prep-
aration for the demands of adulthood (Barber 2005).
Within a broader context, gratitude is a vital resource for
positive youth development. For example, consider the 5
C’s of thriving (Lerner 2004). A case could be made that
gratitude either contributes to, or is strengthened by,
competence, confidence, connection, character, and caring/
compassion. Incorporating current perspectives of thriving
may help account for some of the mechanisms by which
gratitude impacts positive youth development.
If gratitude ignites a passion for helping others and
contributing to society, then it makes sense to create
empirically supported interventions and programs for
increasing gratitude in youth. While progress has been
made in the applied research of gratitude in youth (Froh
et al. 2008, 2009a, 2010b) larger and more systematic
efforts are needed because beyond being good for oneself,
the current study suggests that being grateful is good for
others. Thus, future researchers should continue devel-
oping and testing new methods for making youth more
grateful.
Others have found that happiness does not just feel
good, but it is also good for social, emotional, psycholog-
ical, and physical functioning. Indeed, happiness precedes
numerous positive outcomes such as getting and staying
married, higher salaries, positive work evaluations, stron-
ger immune systems, and even longevity (Lyubomirsky
et al. 2005). Similarly, gratitude may go beyond being a
positive emotion that yields intrapsychic gains and may
actually be the impetus for good things to happen to others.
Indeed, although other research with early adolescents
suggests that gratitude is beyond feeling good because it is
related with prosocial behavior (Froh et al. 2009b), this is
the first known study showing that gratitude predicts
helping behavior at both the micro and macro level.
Therefore, schools and other youth-related organizations
(e.g., Boy and Girl Scouts, youth ministry, after-school
programs) interested in using social-emotional learning
(SEL) programs to foster and nurture the development of
other-centeredness and altruism in youth might want to
adopt a gratitude curriculum (e.g., Froh et al. 2010b). If the
goal is to help shape children and adolescents into con-
tributing members of society who care about the welfare of
others and feel connected to their community, our data
suggest that teaching children how to be grateful might be a
good initial step.
We also found that individual level prosocial behavior
predicts macro level prosocial behavior (i.e., social inte-
gration) but not the reverse and that this ‘upstream gen-
erativity’ is ignited by gratitude. Generativity is the
concern for and commitment to promoting the well-being
of the next generation through parenting, teaching, men-
toring, leadership, and other activities and involvements in
which adults seek to leave a positive legacy for the future
(McAdams 2001). Generativity is typically thought of as a
concern that is activated later in life and is not develop-
mentally normative in young adolescents. But even our
10–14 year-olds showed a desire to contribute to the well-
being of society, questioning the assumption that gener-
ativity is relevant only in mid-life and beyond. Youth who
perceive the investments that others make in them at an
early age feel valued and trusted, which leads to more life
satisfaction and prosocial behavior later; we contend that
this in turn makes them feel more socially integrated. This
pattern is reminiscent of McAdams and Bauer’s (2004)
finding that the most generative adults recall times in their
childhood where they received in their lives an advantage,
blessing, or lucky break from the hand of others and now
have decided ‘to give something back,’ to nurture and
take care of the world, for others have been good enough to
do that for them.
Building from the broaden-and-build theory of positive
emotions (Fredrickson 2001), we found that gratitude
triggers upward spirals of social well-being. This is similar
to the ‘cycle of virtue whereby gratitude and happiness
have a reciprocal relationship (Watkins 2004) and the
‘upward spirals’ whereby positive affect and broad-
minded coping reciprocally and prospectively lead to one
another (Fredrickson and Joiner 2002). Our analyses sup-
ported the upward spiral prediction: gratitude—through its
effects on social integration—predicts future increases in
gratitude. Early adolescents who achieve this upward spiral
not only experience gains in emotional well-being (i.e.,
more gratitude), but they also experience gains in social
well-being (i.e., social integration). This dynamic process
will likely build enduring social resources that can be used
in times of adversity (Fredrickson et al. 2003; Tugade and
Fredrickson 2004). Thus, the reciprocal and prospective
relationship between gratitude and social integration sug-
gests an upward spiral, in which gratitude and social
integration serially enhance each other (see Fig. 2).
Motiv Emot (2010) 34:144–157 153
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As with any study, there are some limitations in this
research. First, we relied solely on self-report measures.
This may have artificially inflated our findings due to
shared-reporter variance. Future research on gratitude in
youth could benefit from using multiple methods, including
behavioral, physiological, and informant (peer/parent/tea-
cher) data to decrease the shared method variance.
Second, we assessed gratitude through a single measure,
the Gratitude Adjectives Checklist. The GAC asks
respondents to rate the frequency with which they have felt
the grateful, thankful, and appreciative over varying peri-
ods of time. The GAC has good psychometric properties,
and its validity has been documented in both adult and
adolescent samples (Froh et al. 2008; McCullough et al.
2002). By altering the time frame for which participants
rate the frequency of these affective states in their lives, the
measure can be used to tap trait levels of the grateful dis-
position, shorter-term affect, or some intermediate level. A
priority for future research examining gratitude in children
should be on the development and validation of age-
appropriate measures. We do not know if the current pat-
tern would have held had we employed dispositional
measures of gratitude, in addition to the GAC. Progress in
understanding youth gratitude will depend upon the
development and validation of measures that sensitively
assess and monitor individual differences in gratitude in
children and adolescents. Trait-like measures can be aug-
mented with more context-specific ones that take into
account, say, grateful experiences and expressions with
parents and siblings.
Third, one could argue that the observed results are
primarily due to positive affectivity or low neuroticism, not
gratitude per se. We did not collect data on positive
affectivity or neuroticism at T1 so we are unable to control
for their effects and make the case for the specificity of
gratitude. But other research with early adolescents points
to gratitude’s unique prediction of positive outcomes. For
example, one study found that, controlling for positive
affect, gratitude was related with more family satisfaction,
school satisfaction, overall life satisfaction, optimism,
gratitude in response to aid, and friend support (Froh et al.
2009b). And additional analyses done with the data from
Froh et al. (2009b) indicate that, controlling for negative
affect, gratitude is related with more family satisfaction,
friend satisfaction, school satisfaction, residency satisfac-
tion, overall life satisfaction, positive affect, optimism,
gratitude in response to aide, and friend support. Thus,
although data for the current study do not allow us to
formally test gratitude’s unique contribution to predicting
social integration beyond positive affectivity and low
neuroticism, some research supports the idea that there is
something unique about gratitude when predicting positive
outcomes.
Fourth, there are some shortcomings with our develop-
mental research because the data are correlational. Spe-
cifically, we wonder how much of the effect we found is
due to gratitude and how much is simply driven by matu-
ration. That is, maybe adolescents who are more socially
and emotionally mature are more satisfied and socially
engaged. Gratitude could therefore only be a byproduct of
maturity. Experimental evidence would be helpful in
determining causality. Alternatively, a comparison of
youth a few years younger or older might shed light on the
developmental aspects of this research.
Finally, although we use the term longitudinal in this
report, we recognize that our follow-up (6 months) was
relatively short in duration. To be sure, we are not the first
to refer to a year follow-up as longitudinal. To con-
vincingly demonstrate that gratitude leads to long-term
prosocial behavior, however, longer periods of time will
need to be examined. We need to track these youth over
time. We have reason to believe that the effects of gratitude
on social integration are not short-lived, and certainly our
findings are suggestive of a more sustained influence of
gratitude on social responsibility. But a more definitive
conclusion awaits future research efforts.
At a more practical level, our results lead us to conclude
that parents, teachers, and other socializing agents should
regularly encourage elementary-school children to make
public and regular expressions of gratitude, especially in
response to overtures and help provided by adults. Just as
gratitude is more than saying thanks and having good
manners, the effects of gratitude extend far beyond hap-
piness and personal well-being. The examination of grati-
tude in youth, and the factors that promote as well as
inhibit its internalization and expression, is a worthy goal
whose attainment will enhance young persons’ prospects
for flourishing and possibly, as our findings imply, help
enhance the very institutions and communities they inhabit.
Acknowledgments Gratitude is extended to Sheldon Karnilow,
Patrick Harrigan, William Sefick, Andrew Greene, Sy Roth, and all of
the teachers and students for their support with data collection.
Thanks go to Christine Boccio, Melissa Ubertini, Pascual Chen,
Stephanie Snyder, Christine White, Kate Caputo, Lisa Wajsblat,
Ashley Bartner, Al-Jameela Youssef, Vincent Conte, Loren Packer-
Hopke, Lindsay Laufer, Owen Graham, and Terrance Wakely for
their assistance with data collection. We thank Jinyan Fan, Mark
Muraven, and two anonymous reviewers for their insightful com-
ments on an earlier draft of this manuscript.
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Chapter
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