Evidence That It Works
Researchers have recently begun to study gratitude in cultures and countries outside the United States, with findings that suggest the West’s perception of gratitude is not necessarily universal.
For example, one study found that second-language learners of English had a difficult time learning to say “thank you” all the time. Scientists suggest that some cultures have an unspoken expectation that offering goods or services to others is a person’s right or duty, so there is no need to thank the person who does this for you–it’s just expected.
A 2018 cross-cultural study of 7 to 14-year-olds found that children in China and South Korea were more likely to express connective gratitude, or offering something meaningful to another person as a sign of gratitude, more fully taking into account another person’s thoughts and feelings. American and Brazilian children were more likely to express concrete gratitude, or offering something in repayment that is valuable to themselves rather than the other person. And Guatemalan children were more likely to express verbal gratitude, or saying “thank you.”
Why Does It Matter?
When teaching gratitude, teachers need to recognize that students’ beliefs and expressions of gratitude may differ from their own. Saying “thank you” or keeping gratitude journals may be a very strange practice for some students; whereas, not saying “thank you” may seem foreign to others.
Having open and respectful conversations with parents and students about possible cultural differences is a golden opportunity for educators to deepen cross-cultural understanding and connection, helping to cultivate a safe and welcoming classroom and school climate.