Shades of Gratitude:

Exploring Divine, Cosmic, and Personal Sources of Gratitude

Project Dates

November 2020—Present

Research Team

Principal Investigator: Pamela Ebstyne King

Co-Investigators: Stephanie Trudeau and Susan Mangan

Statistical Consultant: Sung Kim

Student Researchers: Rebecca Baer, Sean Noe, and Lauren Van Vranken

Funded By

This study was made possible through the generous grant, Gratitude to God from the John Templeton Foundation held by Biola University.

Project Overview

Research demonstrates that gratitude has a great effect on our emotional and social well-being. However, until now, gratitude has been studied as an interpersonal construct—meaning researchers conceptualize and measure gratitude based on one person’s experience of gratitude for a gift or benefit originating from another person (e.g., I’m grateful to my parents for their kindness). But what about gratitude to God or other cosmic sources? The Thrive Center aims to investigate and test the role of transcendent beliefs, meanings, and the potential psychological tendencies involved in experiencing gratitude to God and other cosmic sources of gratitude. Through a mixed methods design, we are exploring the role of beliefs about transcendence and individual psychological differences to gain insight into people’s experience, understanding, and practice of gratitude to God.

Building on an understanding of gratitude as a virtue that is comprised of characteristic adaptations that are given meaning through one’s transcendent narrative identity,1-3 we propose to investigate how one’s narrative identity informs their understanding and experience of gratitude in general, and to God or other cosmic sources more specifically. An interdisciplinary framework allows for the consideration of not only the content, coherence, and salience of beliefs about transcendence but also one’s experience of transcendence which will shed light on the variation in how people conceptualize and experience gratitude to God, as well as interpersonal gratitude.


1. King, P. E., Schnitker, S. A., & Houltberg, B. (2020). Religion as fertile ground: Religious groups and institutions as a context for moral development. Handbook of Moral Development (ed. L. Jensen). New York: Oxford University Press.

2. Schnitker, S. A., King, P. E., & Houltberg, B. (2019). Religion, Spirituality, and Thriving: Transcendent Narrative, Virtue, and Lived Purpose. In Hardy, S. & King, P. E. (eds.). Special section: Processes of religious and spiritual influence in adolescence, Journal of Research on Adolescence, 29(2), 276-290.

3. McAdams, D., & Pals, J. (2006). A new big five: Fundamental principles for an integrative science of personality. The American Psychologist, 61(3), 204–217.

Guiding Questions

The central, guiding research questions of this project are:

  • How do one’s beliefs and experiences of God impact their experience of gratitude?
  • What are the characteristic adaptations (e.g. emotions, strivings, cognitive schemas) that are involved in gratitude to God?

Investigating these two questions will allow us to begin to reveal the landscape of the variation of gratitude to God and to draw distinctions between gratitude to God and interpersonal gratitude.

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