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UC Davis professor receives $5.6 million for gratitude research

May 21, 2012

Man standing outside

Robert Emmon's new project will promote evidence-based practices of gratitude in such settings as schools, workplaces, homes and communities, to better understand gratitude and its role in a civil society. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis photo)

UC Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons practices what he researches, expressing thanks for a $5.6 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation to advance the science of gratitude.

“Thanks to the generosity of the John Templeton Foundation, we will be able to rapidly grow the science of gratitude and expand the scientific database of this key human virtue, particularly in the areas of health and happiness, social relationships and developmental psychology," said Emmons, editor in chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology and author of three books on gratitude.

The grant will support a three-year project, “Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude,” incorporating researchers from UC Davis, UC Berkeley, Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., and California State University, Dominguez Hills. The project will promote evidence-based practices of gratitude in such settings as schools, workplaces, homes and communities, to better understand gratitude and its role in a civil society.

The foundation previously supported Emmons and University of Miami Professor Michael E. McCullough in a study that found people who kept daily gratitude journals exercised more regularly, complained of fewer illness symptoms and felt better about their lives overall compared with those who didn’t.

Religions and philosophies have long embraced gratitude as a manifestation of virtue, and an integral component of health, wholeness and wellbeing. But Emmons said scientists are latecomers when it comes to appreciating this “forgotten factor.”

Fellow psychologist George R. Mangun, dean of the UC Davis Division of Social Sciences, said: “One of the most important areas of psychology to emerge in recent years is that of positive psychology, and research and practice into areas such as the influence of gratitude on mental health and brain function.

“We are fortunate at UC Davis to have the leadership of people like Professor Emmons, whose work in these areas is of tremendous importance.”

Emmons is the author of "The Psychology of Gratitude" (Oxford University Press), "Words of Gratitude" (Templeton Foundation Press), and "THANKS!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier" (Houghton-Mifflin).

The Pennsylvania-based John Templeton Foundation describes itself as “a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality.” It supports research on subjects including evolution, creativity, forgiveness, love and free will.

About UC Davis

For more than 100 years, UC Davis has been one place where people are bettering humanity and our natural world while seeking solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. Located near the state capital, UC Davis has more than 33,000 students, over 2,500 faculty and more than 21,000 staff, an annual research budget of over $750 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and more than 100 undergraduate majors in four colleges — Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Letters and Science. It also houses six professional schools — Education, Law, Management, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.

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