Impact Faculty

Dr. Jesse Owen Awarded $2M Grant to Study How Gratitude, Forgiveness and Humility Can Improve Well-Being

The past 30 years have seen the emergence of positive psychology, the study of fostering virtues like gratitude, forgiveness and humility, as a counterbalance to psychology’s tendency to focus largely on describing psychological problems, or what happens when things go wrong.

While positive psychology has made headway in fields like education, its findings have yet to be integrated into many psychologists’ and psychiatrists’ mental health care practices.

Dr. Jesse Owen, professor and former chair of the Department of Counseling Psychology, is stepping in to make an impact. Owen was awarded a $2 million, multi-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation to study how psychotherapy can contribute to people being able to live more meaningful lives. Especially fitting is the vision of the Templeton Foundation, which looks “forward to a world where people are curious about the wonders of the universe, motivated to pursue lives of meaning and purpose, and overwhelmed by great and selfless love.”

Owen and Dr. Steven Sandage, professor of Psychology of Religion and Theology and research director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Psychology at Boston University (BU), are leading a multi-year investigation to measure whether growth in gratitude, forgiveness and humility can predict — or even help to cause — growth in general flourishing and well-being among mental health clients.

This multi-site project includes collaboration between the Albert and Jessie Danielsen Institute and the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders at BU, as well as McLean Hospital at Harvard Medical School. Each site is conducting clinical research projects with differing treatment options but within a shared framework and set of research questions. 

Owen and Sandage hope that the project will offer clinicians higher levels of scientific rigor and clinical application to shift the conversation in mental health from symptom alleviation to allowing clients to thrive.

“I am excited for the possibilities to explore client and therapist flourishing,” Owen said, “to promote what we all truly want — to live the good life.”

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