Original paper

Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 144-157

First online:

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

  • Jeffrey J. FrohAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Hofstra University Email author 
  • , Giacomo BonoAffiliated withWhittier College
  • , Robert EmmonsAffiliated withUniversity of California

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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.


Gratitude Social integration Adolescents Life satisfaction Prosocial behavior