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Understanding the development of positive character traits that contribute to civil society, concern for others, and the prudent use of resources is a major task for developmental scientists. This project focuses on the development of gratitude in 7- to 14-year-olds and their parents from 4 societies that vary in emphasis on autonomy and relatedness. Gratitude is a key aspect of character formation; adolescents and adults who are grateful report high psychological well being, tend to be more connected to community, and tend to be less materialistic. Excessive materialism is neither environmentally sustainable nor psychologically healthy, but in societies that encourage consumerism it is difficult to raise children to be non-materialistic. Developing gratitude in children may help to counteract excessive materialism.

Children will respond to questions designed to elicit their views about gratitude and materialism. Parents will also be interviewed about their values and their children’s development of character, with a specific focus on gratitude and on materialism. We will examine differences in parents and children from varying cultural groups (both within and across societies) that socialize their children to be relatively autonomous (independent), relational (interdependent), or both.

This project will be the first to examine the development in children and adolescents of gratitude, materialism, and the relations between them, and will show how both culture and parent individual differences are related to children’s values. Our findings will be published in peer-reviewed journals, in an academic book, and booklets intended for teachers’ and parents’ use. Our goal is first to provide the empirical evidence and second the materials that can be used by parents and teachers to promote children’s and adolescents’ gratitude and, in the process, develop a more psychologically healthy and environmentally sustainable view about the acquisition of material goods.