By Edward F. DeRoche
For a variety of reasons, I have been reading about the “power” of engaging in the “habit” of expressing gratitude in what one says and what one does. I thought that finding out more about gratitude would be an appropriate topic for this month since this is National Gratitude Month, and we will be celebrating Thanksgiving Day.
“An attitude of gratitude means creating a conscious mindset and habit to be thankful, and express appreciation for every aspect of your life, both big and small.”
Interestingly, gratitude’s powers have the ability to shift us from focusing on the negative to appreciating what is positive in our lives. Practicing daily gratitude gives us a deeper connection to ourselves, to our family and friends, and to the world around us.
Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, writes: “You literally cannot overplay the hand of gratitude; the grateful mind reaps massive benefits in every domain of life that has been examined so far. There are countless ways in which gratitude could pay off in the workplace [and in homes and schools].”
Research has shown that gratitude can enhance our moods, decrease stress, and drastically improve our overall level of health and wellbeing. On average, grateful people tend to have fewer stress-related illnesses, experience less depression, and have lower blood pressure. They are more physically fit, they are happier, have a higher income, have more satisfying personal and professional relationships, and are better liked.
Studies have shown that people who experience gratitude have more positive emotions (joy, love, happiness) and exhibit fewer negative emotions (bitterness, envy, resentment). The “gratitude experience” also contributes to feelings of connectedness, relationships, and better physical health.
Here’s is a quote that makes the case for teaching students the “why” and “how” of gratefulness in homes and schools: “Grateful kids are more likely to get A’s in school.”
Amy L. Eva, Ph.D., the associate education director at the Greater Good Science Center, writes that “you can’t teach gratitude practices in a vacuum—especially to teens….Teens tend to respond more positively to lessons and activities that help them understand themselves and connect with peers….”
In her article, “How to Teach Gratitude to Tweens and Teens,” she cites a special curriculum that offers insights for authentically nurturing gratitude in students (Greater Good Science Center’s website).
Dr. Eva writes that there are three key ways to teach gratitude to children and youth.
- Exploring identity. Identity development remains the central developmental task for adolescents, and this curriculum helps facilitate that by allowing students to explore their character strengths (e.g., traits like honesty, curiosity, perseverance, humility.)
- Capitalizing on strengths. A gratitude curriculum that builds on strengths is a wonderful counter to focusing on students’ perceived deficits.
- Building positive relationships. Once they know their strengths, students can leverage them to connect more deeply with others and to do good—in school and beyond.
Two of the first researchers to study gratitude among youth were Jeffrey Froh (Hofstra University) and Giacomo Bono (CSU-Dominguez Hills). They have worked with thousands of children and adolescents across the United States. In a recent study, they found “that teens who had high levels of gratitude when entering high school had less negative emotions and depression, and more positive emotions, life satisfaction, and happiness four years later when they were finishing high school. They also had more hope and a stronger sense of meaning in life.”
Froh and Bono note that there are some specific practices that teachers can use in their classrooms. Here are two examples:
- One practice is keeping a gratitude journal. “We asked middle school students simply to list five things for which there were grateful daily for two weeks, and we compared these students to others who were writing about hassles in their life or basic daily life events….Most significantly, compared to the other students, gratitude journalers reported more satisfaction with their school experience immediately after the two-week period, a result that held up even three weeks later.”
- Another practice is what they call the gratitude visit. In this exercise they had students “write a letter to someone who had helped them but whom they’d never properly thanked; the students read their letter to him or her in person, then later discuss their experience with others who also completed a gratitude visit.”
I’ll end this blog with three excellent resources for helping teach and nurture gratitude.
- The first—check out the ideas described in the “Gratitude Works Program” sponsored by the National Association of School Psychologists (www.nasponline.org).
- A second excellent resource, offered by The Greater Good Science Center, is “Nurturing Gratitude from the Inside Out: 30 Activities for Grades K-8 “in which the curriculum includes 30 activities for grades K–8.
- For a third informative and useful resource, visit characterlab.org/gratitude for a 14-page booklet on the “Why & How” and several instructional activities.
My GRADITUTE to those of who read and share our blogs with others.
Edward DeRoche, Ph.D., Director
Character Education Resource Center
Department of Learning & Teaching // University of San Diego
November 2022 BLOG