(dailyRx News) Saying "thank you" is likely one of the earliest behaviors parents teach their children. If kids can maintain gratitude through adolescence, they may have better overall mental health.
An unpublished study presented at the recent American Psychological Association's annual conference found that teens who grow up feeling gratitude also have better overall mental health.
In a study led by Giacomo Bono, PhD, a psychology professor at California State University, researchers gave 700 New York students questionnaires at two different times.
The students were about evenly split between males and females, and 67 percent were white. The remaining students were 11 percent Asian-American, 10 percent African-American, 1.4 percent Hispanic and 10.6 percent "other" or "no response."
The students, aged 10 to 14, took the questionnaires at school once at the start of the study and then again four years later.
The researchers then compared the responses of the teens who were in the top 20 percent of feeling grateful and those in the lowest 20 percent.
The most grateful teens had better mentally health indicators in a range of areas than those teens who felt least grateful.
Being "grateful" was defined as having moods that let them respond in positive ways to the good people and good things in their lives, according to Dr. Bono.
The most grateful teens were 15 percent more satisfied with their lives overall, including at home, at school, within their neighborhoods, with their friends and with themselves.
They were also 17 percent happier and more hopeful about their lives and rated as having a 15 percent greater sense of meaning in their lives.
The teens ranking as most grateful also had a 13 percent drop in negative emotions and 15 percent drop in symptoms of depression.
The most grateful teens were also slightly less likely to skip school, to cheat on tests, to receive detention or to use alcohol or drugs.
According to Dr. Bono, teens didn't have to start out being extremely grateful to experience benefits if they developed a greater sense of gratitude as they matured.
"They experienced many of the same improvements in well-being," he said. "For instance, the top 10 percent of those who developed the most gratitude showed 9 percent less delinquency than the bottom 10 percent in gratitude growth."
The presentation did not mention whether other information was gathered about the students, such as their mental health or physical health histories, their family income or family structure, their life circumstances or other factors which may have impacted the results of the study.
The study also does not establish that simply being grateful for things in life will make a person happier or better adjusted, but there does appear to be a link between a feeling of gratitude and a better overall outlook on life.
"These findings suggest that gratitude may be strongly linked with life skills such as cooperation, purpose, creativity and persistence and, as such, gratitude is vital resource that parents, teachers and others who work with young people should help youth build up as they grow up," Bono said. "More gratitude may be precisely what our society needs to raise a generation that is ready to make a difference in the world."
The study was presented at the American Psychological Association's 120th annual convention in Orlando August 2-5. The research was funded by the John Templeton Foundation. Because the study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, its results should be regarded as preliminary and still require review by researchers in the field.