Psychologist Robert Emmons, PhD, says the United States is in crisis, and he isn't talking about the economy. He's talking about our lack of gratitude.

"We have lost a strong sense of gratitude about the freedoms we enjoy," says Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, and editor of the Journal of Positive Psychology.

But thanks to a recent $5.6 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation, Emmons is leading the charge to find evidence-based ways to help people practice gratitude daily. While most people understand that saying "thank you" is polite, many don't know that research shows that practicing gratitude also lowers the lifetime risk for mental illness and can alleviate depression. Writing in a daily gratitude journal is also associated with more exercise, fewer symptoms and general life satisfaction, according to one of Emmons's studies. "Gratitude works," he says. "It has the power to heal, to energize and to change lives."

Emmons will award part of the funds to promising researchers who are testing new ways to cultivate gratitude. Ultimately, he hopes their findings will be used to establish interventions in schools, workplaces, homes and communities. He is particularly interested in funding research on children and gratitude. "Children are notoriously ungrateful, but what do the data say?" he asks.

— Anna Miller

Watch Emmons speak about the benefits of gratitude on health.