Letter to Friends of Character Lab |

Just over a decade ago, Character Lab was created to advance scientific insights that help kids thrive. Today, we write to celebrate the organization’s achievements, to thank the many individuals who made them possible, and, finally, to announce that we will sunset operations by the end of June 2024.

Consistent with our core value of scientific integrity, this letter relies on data to share two important lessons from our journey.

We learned that given the
opportunity scientists, educators,
and students can collaborate on research.

Early in our history, scientists told us they were eager to understand how young people develop strengths like gratitude, growth mindset, grit, curiosity, and creativity. They were passionate about identifying the conditions that enabled the cultivation of character strengths and, in turn, thriving. However, for any individual scientist, collecting data in schools was exceedingly difficult. It was prohibitively expensive, in terms of effort and funding, to surmount the regulatory hurdles, political red tape, logistical complexity, and other barriers separating scientists and schools. Likewise, educators and students who were eager to participate in serious research were unable to connect with researchers on the questions they cared about most.

Our solution was Character Lab Research Network, a platform that made research in schools fast, frictionless, and fruitful. In total, Character Lab facilitated roughly 500 studies for scientists at 138 universities, with a network that at its peak included more than 130,000 students attending 110 schools across 10 states. We grew our internship program to 150 teens—and discovered how powerfully they improve the quality of research. Insights from the data we collected have been summarized in more than 52 articles in renowned peer-reviewed scientific journals, including Nature, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Psychological Science, and the Quarterly Journal of Economics.

We showed that scientists can
communicate their discoveries —
with clarity and charisma —
to parents and educators.

We helped scientists create 15 different Playbooks, each an original, research-based guide to cultivating a particular strength of heart (gratitude, honesty, kindness, purpose, emotional intelligence, and social intelligence), strength of mind (curiosity, creativity, judgment, decision making, and intellectual humility), or strength of will (grit, growth mindset, proactivity, and self-control).

We also helped researchers write more than 200 Tips of the Week, each delivering actionable advice to parents and educators, based on science. Each week, these Tips were received by over 40,000 newsletter subscribers and, through Education Week, Psychology Today, and other partners, many others seeking to be a psychologically wise adult in the life of a young person.

We partnered with TED-Ed to produce 14 animated videos based on our Tips and Playbooks—with more than 17 million views and counting. Our Playbooks were featured on the back of 800,000 boxes of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.


Gratitude is appreciating what you have been given. Here we take the opportunity to thank our tireless team members—past and present—for embodying our core values of grit, kaizen, and, most especially, putting kids first. From dawn to sunset, you have been the soul of Character Lab.

To our funders and founding Board members, we have been awed by your excessive generosity—a core value we define as giving without asking. We want you to know that it was not only your philanthropic support that kept the lights on; it was your faith that sustained our motivation to keep going. And your wise counsel at every twist and turn.

We thank our school partners for caring enough about all kids to support scientific research on character development. You make schools a place where everyone keeps learning, and you taught us so much.

We thank the scientists in our network. You exemplify our core value of uncompromising honesty. You have shown us what it means to argue like you’re right and listen like you’re wrong.

And most of all, we thank the students who, over the last 10 years, voiced your perspectives—whether that was in focus groups, interviews, or online surveys and activities. Your candor and integrity inspire us.

Our Hope for the Future

With all there is to be proud of and thankful for, one might wonder why we’ve decided to bring the story of Character Lab to a close. It was not an easy decision. The work of advancing the science and practice of character development is far from complete. The potential of all young people to live lives that are as good for others as for themselves is limitless.

Ultimately, we concluded that the specific design requirements for running Character Lab Research Network were not sustainable long-term—particularly with respect to providing a sufficiently attractive value proposition to school leaders tasked with competing priorities. Because supporting research studies requires the lion’s share of our resources, both in budget and staff time, we decided to devote our energies in the remaining months of our program year to three priorities: completing planned research projects with scientists and school partners; ensuring a smooth transition for our team and the scientists, educators, and students we serve; and securing a permanent, publicly accessible home for the Playbooks, Tips, and other resources now available at characterlab.org.

Having demonstrated what scientists, educators, and young people can accomplish when they work together, we look forward, with optimism, to what the next generation will do to help all kids thrive.