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Differences in Adolescent Gratitude Expression

Publication Authors: 
Robert Borah & Kathleen Remington
Publication Year: 

The relationship between gratitude and materialism has been a topic of growing interest to developmental psychologists over the past decade. Most of the research has examined how the relationship between gratitude and materialism impacts well-being. However, to date little research has explored the different ways that young people express gratitude and how materialism might relate to expressions of gratitude. The present study addresses this gap by qualitatively exploring gratitude among young adolescents.. We conducted semi-structured interviews with 98 middle school students, asking them what they felt grateful for and how they expressed gratitude. We categorized participants as having “materialistic gratitude” if they mentioned they were grateful for any material items (e.g., toys, fancy clothes?), or “non-materialistic gratitude” if there was no mention of material items. Participants with materialistic gratitude were more likely to express their gratitude through simple verbal statements, such as saying “thank you.” Participants with non-materialistic gratitude were more likely to express their gratitude through complex verbal statements, for example by mentioning appreciation for specific benefits. They also expressed gratitude through actions, for example by helping the benefactor in a way unrelated to the original benefit. By identifying a connection between materialistic gratitude and complexity of gratitude expression, these findings expand what we know about how gratitude develops in adolescence. Moreover, understanding the differences in gratitude expression between individuals with materialistic and non-materialistic gratitude may better inform our notion of the relationship between gratitude and materialism more generally.