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The Relationship Between Gratitude and Happiness in Young Children

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Over the past decades, much progress has been made in understanding the relationship between gratitude and well-being in adults, school-aged children, and adolescents (see Emmons and Mishra, in: Sheldon, Kashdan, Steger (eds) Designing positive psychology: taking stock and moving forward, Oxford University Press, New York, pp 248–262, 2011; Watkins in Gratitude and the good life: toward a psychology of appreciation, Springer, New York, 2014. However, relatively little is known about this relationship in young children (see Park and Peterson in J Happiness Stud 7(3):323–341, 2006. The aim of the present study was to fill this gap by investigating the relationship between gratitude and happiness in young children. The general propensity for gratitude, domain-specific gratitude, and trait happiness were measured in a group of children (N = 80, Mage = 5.04 years). The results revealed that children’s domain-specific gratitude predicted children’s happiness above and beyond a general propensity for gratitude. These findings establish the presence of a relationship between gratitude and happiness in children by age 5 years, and reveal the type of gratitude, namely domain-specific, that is associated with happiness among young children.
Journal of Happiness Studies (2020) 21:2773–2787
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The Relationship Between Gratitude andHappiness inYoung
SimoneP.Nguyen1· CameronL.Gordon2
Published online: 11 November 2019
© Springer Nature B.V. 2019
Over the past decades, much progress has been made in understanding the relationship
between gratitude and well-being in adults, school-aged children, and adolescents (see
Emmons and Mishra, in: Sheldon, Kashdan, Steger (eds) Designing positive psychology:
taking stock and moving forward, Oxford University Press, New York, pp 248–262, 2011;
Watkins in Gratitude and the good life: toward a psychology of appreciation, Springer,
New York, 2014. https :// However, relatively little is
known about this relationship in young children (see Park and Peterson in J Happiness
Stud 7(3):323–341, 2006. https :// 2-005-3648-6). The aim of the pre-
sent study was to fill this gap by investigating the relationship between gratitude and hap-
piness in young children. The general propensity for gratitude, domain-specific gratitude,
and trait happiness were measured in a group of children (N = 80, Mage = 5.04 years). The
results revealed that children’s domain-specific gratitude predicted children’s happiness
above and beyond a general propensity for gratitude. These findings establish the presence
of a relationship between gratitude and happiness in children by age 5years, and reveal the
type of gratitude, namely domain-specific, that is associated with happiness among young
Keywords Children· Gratitude· Happiness· Well-being
1 Introduction
The importance of dispositional gratitude for positive functioning is well documented in
the positive psychology literature (see Wood etal. 2010, for a review). In adults, there is
a robust relationship between trait gratitude and subjective well-being (see Emmons and
* Simone P. Nguyen
Cameron L. Gordon
1 Department ofPsychology, The University ofNorth Carolina, Wilmington, 601 South College
Road, Wilmington, NC28403, USA
2 Department ofPsychology, Middle Tennessee State University, 1301 East Main Street,
Murfreesboro, TN37132, USA
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
... A multitude of hypotheses have been proposed regarding the mechanisms by which gratitude may enhance positive outcomes, including that it may boost positive affect, help individuals to build resources which facilitate coping, increase positive attentional, interpretation and memory biases, and/or foster greater prosocial behaviour and social support (Algoe, 2012;Alkozei et al., 2018;Emmons & Mishra, 2011;Watkins, 2014;Wood et al., 2010). As noted by several authors, our understanding of children's gratitude is particularly limited (Froh et al., 2007;Hussong et al., 2019;Nguyen & Gordon, 2020). If we are to harness the promising benefits of gratitude for young people's wellbeing, we need greater specificity in our understanding of how and why it appears to be effective. ...
... Some initial evidence suggests that domain specific gratitude towards living beings (e.g. friends, family, teachers and pets) is associated with self-reported well-being in children as young as five years old (Nguyen & Gordon, 2020). ...
... As noted by Nguyen and Gordon (2020), our understanding of gratitude is especially limited when it comes to children and young people. There may be differences in the way gratitude operates for them, compared with adults. ...
School-based gratitude interventions show evidence of enhancing student well-being but there is limited research suggesting how gratitude increases well-being. There is also the need for a suitable tool to measure children’s gratitude and evaluate the impact of gratitude interventions. The researcher sought to address these literature gaps. A systematic literature review was used to address the question ‘which variables mediate the association between young people’s gratitude and well-being?’. Stronger evidence was found for cognitive and social resources as mediators, compared to mediators related to affect. A lack of experimental and longitudinal studies in the current evidence base was identified, highlighting avenues for future research. In an empirical study, the researcher designed and screened a new questionnaire of children’s gratitude, the Questionnaire of Appreciation in Youth (QUAY). Items were developed using the literature to identify a comprehensive definition of gratitude and its key features, and through discussion with the research supervisors who have extensive experience of studying gratitude. The initial items were screened in a focus group with three children aged eight to nine. Exploratory factor analysis was then conducted with responses from 107 children aged eight to 10. This led to the development of an 11-item scale with good reliability and convergent validity with an existing measure of gratitude, the GQ-6. A three-factor structure was retained, with subscales addressing gratitude, appreciation, and sense of privilege. Limitations include the lack of a more diverse sample, the absence of reverse-scored items, positive skew in responses, and the need to establish discriminant validity. Implications include new insights into the structure of children’s gratitude, providing a working tool which could be further developed in order to measure children’s gratitude more effectively.
... Some researchers, such as Holder and Coleman (2008), have found that girls are happier than boys. Others found no gender difference in children's happiness Nguyen & Gordon, 2019). Age differences in children's connection to nature, temperament, and happiness have also been examined. ...
... Compared to younger children, older children are more emotionally autonomous within relationships to external environments including natural environments; therefore, they feel higher degrees of separation from and a lower connection to nature (Liefländer et al., 2013). However, age differences in temperament (Lengua & Kovacs, 2005) and happiness (Nguyen & Gordon, 2019) have not been found. To our knowledge, no studies have examined whether the moderating mechanism underlying the association between the connection to nature and children's happiness differs by gender or age. ...
... Independent samples t-tests indicated that there was no difference in the mothers' and fathers' reports of children's happiness. The Faces Scale has been used widely and has demonstrated adequate reliability and validity (Holder & Coleman, 2008;Holder et al., 2012;Nguyen & Gordon, 2019). ...
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Connection to nature is positively associated with happiness among adults. However, whether and how connection to nature is associated with children’s happiness remains unknown. The current study aims to examine the association between connection to nature and children’s happiness and the moderating effect of temperament (negative affectivity and effortful control) on this association. Four hundred fifty-eight children aged 7–12 years and one of their parents participated in this study. Our study found that connection to nature is positively associated with both children’s self- and parent-reported happiness. Children’s negative affectivity moderates the association between connection to nature and self-reported happiness, and the moderating effect differs by gender. Specifically, the negative affectivity of girls strengthens the association between connection to nature and happiness. These findings highlight the positive impact of connection to nature on children’s happiness and the importance of considering children’s negative affectivity and gender when exploring the association between connection to nature and positive development.
... Emmons and McCullough 2004;Olson et al. 2019;Sharma and Singh 2019;van Cappellen et al. 2016;Watkins et al. 2019). In turn, these positive emotions and deeds enhance subjective well-being(Nguyen and Gordon 2020;Polak and McCullough 2006;van Cappellen et al. 2016). ...
The flourishing literature in economics, sociology, and religious studies finds that religious individuals are happier than the nonreligious. This chapter summarizes the most influential literature on this topic, focusing on theoretical foundations, empirical applications, and challenges in analyzing the religion-happiness relationship. Based on previous economic literature, several theories explaining why individuals engage in religious activities are outlined, including the theory of time allocation to religious and secular (market) activities, rational choice theory, and the club goods theory. The chapter also discusses how these theories explain why religiosity helps to promote happiness. The review of empirical studies focuses on the insurance effect of religion and summarizes the studies of happiness and religion at the individual- and country-levels. Another dimension underscored in the chapter is the geography of religious beliefs and the studies of happiness and religion in different world regions. Finally, the major challenges in studying the religion-happiness relationship are highlighted and several avenues for future academic and policy-oriented research on the topic are outlined. The chapter underscores that studying the religion-happiness relationship and understanding the channels behind it is an important milestone in pursuing happiness, well-governed institutions, and more generally, sustainable development.
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The enforced isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in mental health issues and severity of presentations to emergency departments in Ireland. Long waiting lists for both Psychology and Psychiatry are further impacting on children’s mental well-being. We proposed the creation of a ‘Happiness Toolkit’ that can be given to children on presentation to their primary or secondary care provider with a mental health issue. The toolkit is comprised of six evidence-based techniques that are proven to boost self-esteem, develop resilience and promote positive mental health. A leaflet detailing the practices along with a physical ‘box’ that the children must make were created. This resource may therefore provide immediate support to those children that may endure long waiting periods, sometimes greater than a year and a half, for referral to tertiary services. Our toolkit allows children and their families to engage in positive mental health practices that may prevent regression during this waiting period and lead to improved mental health or cessation of symptoms.
This study aimed to explore Colombian fifth-graders views about people, events, and situations involved in their gratitude experiences. The sample consisted of 120 fifth-grade children from three mixed-gender schools (one public, two private) in Bogotá, Colombia. The study used a child-centered methodology that involved a novel combination of qualitative strategies such as drawings, photos, and schematization. Children played a protagonist role in both gathering and analyzing data. Results showed the complexity of children’s understandings of who they were grateful to and for what benefits. Personal relationships constituted one of the main aspects of children’s perceptions of gratitude; they identified family, friends, teachers and members of the community as the most important benefactors when thinking about gratitude, and they recognized a variety of benefits received from them. Research on gratitude in Colombia and Latin America can provide important input for designing educational programs to promote positive competences in these societies.
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The period of confinement motivated by the COVID-19 pandemic and established by the governments of different countries has influenced the lifestyle of millions of children, not being able to continue carrying out multiple educational activities as they did until confinement. The objective of this research was to determine and analyze whether the living conditions of children during the period of confinement caused by COVID-19 influenced their daily educational activities. A descriptive, comparative and cross-sectional quantitative study with a non-experimental design was carried out, with a single measurement in a single group. Factors associate with living conditions were analyzed, such as the place of residence and the type of house in which Spanish children have been confined, as well as the number and use of technological devices. The parents' perception of the children's state of fatigue, happiness, energy and tiredness was also analyzed. We have worked with a sample of 837 Spanish children. As a data collection instrument, the validated questionnaire on Equipment and Use of Information and Communication Technologies in Households (TIC-H2019) of the National Statistics Institute (INE) was used, following the recommendations of the Statistical Office of the European Union (EUROSTAT). The results confirm some statistically significant influence of the conditions of the house and place of residence on the daily time dedicated to different educational activities such as reading, physical activity, free play or use of technological devices between children residing in small flats and those residing in large flats or houses with garden and those residing in urban and rural settings.
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Gratitude is highly prized. A small sampling of quotes reveals the power and potential of this virtue. “Whatever you are in search of – peace of mind, prosperity, health, love – it is waiting for you if only you are willing to receive it with an open and grateful heart,” writes Sarah Breathnach in the Simple abundance journal of gratitude. Elsewhere she refers to gratitude as “the most passionate transformative force in the cosmos.” Another popular treatment of the topic refers to it as “one of the most empowering, healing, dynamic instruments of consciousness vital to demonstrating the life experiences one desires” (Richelieu, 1996). Lock and key metaphors are especially common; gratitude has been referred to as “the key that opens all doors,” that which “unlocks the fullness of life,” and the “key to abundance, prosperity, and fulfillment” (Emmons & Hill, 2001; Hay, 1996). How do these extraordinary claims regarding the power and promise of gratitude fare when scientific lights are shone on them? Can gratitude live up to its billing? In this chapter we review the growing body of work on gratitude and wellbeing, explore mechanisms by which gratitude interventions elevate well-being, and close by presenting what we consider important issues for the next generation of gratitude intervention studies to address.
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Gratitude provides many advantages throughout development. This study provides a comprehensive review of research on gratitude, with a focus on understanding how it is adaptive in human development. Mounting evidence shows that gratitude is advantageous because it helps reduce antisocial behavior and pathology, protects from stress, promotes physical and mental health, improves social functioning and interpersonal relationships, and supports resilience across the lifespan. We argue that gratitude is foundational for human development and that its advantages motivate self-improvement in people and enable them to work more effectively in social environments to achieve important goals. The review closes with a focus on current issues in assessment, methods, and interventions, as research in these areas will help advance empirical understanding of gratitude’s role in human development and help inform better interventions. Overall, gratitude helps individuals find meaning and coherence in life so that they can improve themselves and elevate others.
Gratitude is associated with a host of positive outcomes; yet, little is understood about the ways in which parents may foster gratitude in their children. The current study allows for the examination of one possible mechanism, namely parent–child conversations, that may be used to encourage gratitude in children. Using a rigorous experimental design, we tested whether an online program that was designed to enrich parents’ skills in having conversations about gratitude with their children was effective in changing parents’ socialization behaviors and children’s gratitude. Results demonstrated that parents can successfully utilize an online program to enhance their gratitude-related communication. This training permeates other aspects of how parents socialize gratitude in children and positively impacts children’s gratitude moments. Implications for program development and understanding the role of parents in the development of children’s gratitude are discussed.
Gratitude is a rich socioemotional construct that emerges over development beginning in early childhood. Existing measures of children’s gratitude as a trait or behavior may be limited because they do not capture different aspects of gratitude moments (i.e. awareness, thoughts, feelings, and actions) and the way that these facets appear in children. The current study evaluates a battery of new measures assessing children’s gratitude to address these limitations. Parent-child dyads (N = 101; children aged 6–9) completed a lab-based assessment followed by a 7-day online parental diary and 18-month follow-up survey. In addition to newly developed measures of children’s gratitude, the battery included indicators of convergent, concurrent, divergent, and predictive validity. Results demonstrate the complexity of gratitude as a construct and the relative benefits and limits of various assessment modalities. Implications for the measurement of children’s gratitude and suggestions for future research on the development of gratitude are discussed.
Parent Socialization of Children’s Gratitude Thank-You Note I wanted small pierced earrings (gold), You gave me slippers (gray). My mother said that she would scold Unless I wrote to say How much I like them. Not much. -Judith Viorst The desire to cultivate gratitude in ourselves and others dates back centuries, as is evident in the early writings of Aristotle on virtues (Thomson, 1955), although our understanding of what gratitude means continues to evolve through ongoing scholarly debate and societal discourse (Kapp, 2013; Reiser, 2014). One of the voices in this debate comes from social psychologists affiliated with the Positive Psychology movement who spearheaded research that has shaped our understanding of gratitude in adults. These researchers differentially adopt the view of gratitude as a life orientation (Wood, Froh, & Geraghty, 2010); a character, virtue, or personality trait (Froh, Sefick, & Emmons, 2008); and a mood or emotional state (McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang, 2002). Research based on this view shows that adults and adolescents who more strongly endorse gratitude traits also report greater life satisfaction, better health outcomes, and more successful relationships (see Algoe, Haidt, & Gable, 2008; Bausert et al., Chapter 7, this volume; Emmons & McCullough, 2003; Froh, Kashdan, Ozimkowski, & Miller, 2009; Wood et al., 2010). Similar research with children has lagged behind that with adults, although this volume is one of a handful of recent works demonstrating growing interest in this topic. As with other areas of research, the psychological study of gratitude has largely followed a downward extension model with the goal of uncovering how early in childhood scientists can replicate findings from adult samples. This approach to understanding gratitude in children aligns with that from the classic descriptive focus of developmental psychology that seeks to identify at what ages a given competency emerges. More recent approaches to understanding development, such as the developmental science framework (Cairns & Elder, 2001), eschew age difference findings as an end goal in favor of understanding how a given competency emerges over ontogeny and what form it takes within the system of influences from which that competency might arise. To meet this aim, a developmental science approach must squarely tackle the issues of what gratitude is at its core, how it changes with ontogeny, and how we best capture its elements as they emerge first in a nascent and then in a mature form.
Cicero (54 BC/2009) held that gratitude “is not only the greatest, but is also the parent of all the other virtues” (p. 80). For centuries philosophers (Hume, 1739-40/2007; Mather, 1732; Smith, 1759/2000) and writers (e.g., Dickens [1860-1861/1996], Great Expectations, and Shakespeare [1605/2005], King Lear) have seemed to agree with Cicero, at least considering gratitude as a virtue and treating ingratitude as a moral failing. Moreover, human beings are not alone in responding positively to those who have provided them with help (de Waal, 2006, 2010). Nonetheless, gratitude is clearly not something that is innate (Emmons & Shelton, 2002), and therefore, its development is worthy of study. The prevailing view is that psychologists have only recently shown any interest in the topic (Elosúa, 2015; Emmons, 2004; McConnell, 2016) and have done so only thanks to the growing field of positive psychology. This is not in fact the case; interest in gratitude as a developing phenomenon is far from recent, with early work on the topic being conducted by Baumgarten-Tramer (1938). Moreover, Piaget ([1954] 1981, [1965] 1995) suggested that gratitude appears during childhood and is an important aspect of moral development. Study of the “positive” aspects of human development has long been the provenance of developmental and moral psychology (see, for example, La Taille, Chapter 2, this volume). Nonetheless, it is true to say that even though gratitude has been studied much more by psychologists this century than at any earlier time, its development has not been a major focus of attention. Instead, perhaps under the influence of positive psychology, gratitude has been treated overwhelmingly as a positive emotion resulting from a wide array of occurrences, ranging from being given a nice gift, to seeing some beautiful art, to appreciating all that one has. Feeling this positive emotion is certainly to be welcomed; however, it is difficult to see why such an emotion should be termed the parent of all virtues. Equally, it is by no means easy to think that failing to feel a positive emotion can qualify as ingratitude or that a person who does not feel it in the face of a gift or art or good health could reasonably be accused of having a moral failing.
Scientists Making a Difference is a fascinating collection of first-person narratives from the top psychological scientists of the modern era. These readable essays highlight the most important contributions to theory and research in psychological science, show how the greatest psychological scientists formulate and think about their work, and illustrate how their ideas develop over time. In particular, the authors address what they consider their most important scientific contribution, how they got the idea, how the idea matters for the world beyond academic psychology, and what they would like to see as the next steps in research. The contributors, who were chosen from an objectively compiled list of the most eminent psychological scientists, provide a broad range of insightful perspectives. This book is essential reading for students, researchers and professionals interested in learning about the development of the biggest ideas in modern psychological science, described firsthand by the scientists themselves.
In four studies, the authors examined the correlates of the disposition toward gratitude. Study 1 revealed that self-ratings and observer ratings of the grateful disposition are associated with positive affect and well-being prosocial behaviors and traits, and religiousness/spirituality. Study 2 replicated these findings in a large nonstudent sample. Study 3 yielded similar results to Studies 1 and 2 and provided evidence that gratitude is negatively associated with envy and materialistic attitudes. Study 4 yielded evidence that these associations persist after controlling for Extraversion/positive affectivity, Neuroticism/negative affectivity, and Agreeableness. The development of the Gratitude Questionnaire, a unidimensional measure with good psychometric properties, is also described.