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Sir John Templeton believed that the path to life’s blessings is paved with gratitude. Recent research has supported this intuition that gratitude and humility can, among other things, help forge stronger leadership, more productive workplaces, and better schools.

But questions remain: Can we become more grateful and humble? Can scientific research help us design programs to instill the lessons about gratitude and humility? And how can we move this message from the laboratory and into the global community?

With support from John Templeton Foundation, researchers are aiming to answer these questions.

Scientists are only at the initial stages of work that could lead to a global transformation, according to Bob Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis and the founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology.

“We are at the dawn of a global gratitude renaissance,” says Emmons. “There is unprecedented enthusiasm for new scientific information on the science and practice of gratitude.”

As a Templeton Foundation grantee, Emmons is collecting and analyzing scientific data on ways to foster the practice of gratitude in daily living. He believes the research will be critical for understanding the “timeless virtue” of gratitude.

“In schools, counseling clinics, healthcare settings, workplaces — from law firms, to financial planning and the travel industry — and even in the halls of academia, there is an increasing awareness that gratitude is vital for individual and collective flourishing,” he adds.

Peter Hill, professor of psychology at Biola University and the recipient of two grants from the Templeton Foundation, is hoping to find more rigorous ways to measure humility generally and intellectual humility in particular. Intellectual humility is the trait of understanding and owning one’s intellectual limitations.

Hill’s work not only suggests that gratitude and humility are deeply connected, but that they could be powerful tools to bolster strong, ethical leadership.

“I think the most obvious connection between gratitude and humility is that by owning one’s limitations, we become aware of our need for others which in turn makes us grateful for what others can provide,” says Hill. “But, more subtly, gratitude may facilitate humility because when we are genuinely thankful, we are less likely to congratulate ourselves or to feel that we are somehow entitled to the benefit we have received.”

Discovering the vital roles that gratitude and humility play in all aspects of our lives is just the first step. More important is sharing these findings with those whose lives can benefit from them.

As a novelist, television producer, and magazine editor, Janice Kaplan reaches millions of readers and viewers. Recently, she put her understanding of and commitment to gratitude on display for the world to see by sharing her efforts to live a more grateful life.

The project, supported by a Templeton Foundation grant, included a book, numerous articles, and appearances on major media outlets. With millions of readers and viewers joining in, Kaplan succeeded in encouraging others worldwide to make gratitude a daily practice.

“Getting to spend a year living gratefully under the Templeton grant was one of the great experiences of my life,” says Kaplan. “I was thrilled that the book that resulted — The Gratitude Diaries — became a New York Times bestseller and continues to generate huge media attention. I hear from people across the country that the book inspired them to make gratitude a daily habit. The support for the project has also been incredibly heartening; translated editions have been published in countries from China to Germany to Brazil. There is no greater joy for me than to know that gratitude has touched people and changed their lives.”

By using the scientific method to probe the nature and benefits of character and tapping into popular culture to communicate those benefits, these projects are helping fulfill Sir John Templeton’s vision that gratitude, humility, and an open mind can be the keys to a better world.

— January 11, 2017

For more information about projects supported by the John Templeton Foundation, please visit the Grant Database.