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

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 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.

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Notes

  1. 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.

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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 comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jeffrey J. Froh.

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Jeffrey J. Froh and Giacomo Bono have contributed equally to this article.

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Froh, J.J., Bono, G. & Emmons, R. Being grateful is beyond good manners: Gratitude and motivation to contribute to society among early adolescents. Motiv Emot 34, 144–157 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-010-9163-z

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Keywords

  • Gratitude
  • Social integration
  • Adolescents
  • Life satisfaction
  • Prosocial behavior