What Is It?

Gratitude means more than simply saying thank you. Researchers usually define it as a feeling or state that results from both (1) recognizing a good thing, such as a positive outcome or gift we’ve received, and (2) recognizing that this good thing came from outside ourselves. Although we most often experience gratitude in response to the actions of other people, we can feel grateful to nonhuman sources, too, such as nature, a higher power, or the universe.

Several studies have investigated the nuances of gratitude, finding that three factors tend to increase the amount of gratitude people feel for benefits they’ve received: the more purposefully someone has helped us (as opposed to unintentionally or with an ulterior motive), the more they’ve sacrificed to do it, and the more the outcome benefits us, the more grateful we feel.

A high school student writes a gratitude letter to his grandmother for taking over his evening responsibilities while his parents worked so that he could study for his finals. She missed her weekly gatherings with friends and instead watched his younger siblings and made them dinner every night, leaving the high schooler ample time to study. As a result, he passed his finals with flying colors!

Though even toddlers can be taught to say thank you, children seem to first experience and express true gratitude at around 6-8 years old, when they are more capable of taking another person’s perspective and have a greater understanding of another’s emotions. Gratitude curriculum has been shown to work with students as young as eight, increasing not only their levels of gratitude but also their social and emotional well-being.

Why Is It Important?

In the past couple of decades, hundreds of studies have documented the social, physical, and psychological benefits of gratitude. Although research on gratitude with young people has lagged behind the research with adults, the past several years have seen a surge of interest in youth gratitude—and studies reveal corresponding benefits.

 

Gratitude promotes emotional well-being.

 

Gratitude relates to physical health.

 

Gratitude helps students do better in school.

 

Gratitude cultivates altruism.

  • Refuting the idea that gratitude is selfish, more grateful adolescents feel more connected to their communities and more motivated to use their gifts to contribute to society.
  • Practicing gratitude also helps make adolescents less materialistic and more generous.

 

Gratitude strengthens relationships.

  • More grateful young people report feeling higher levels of social support; they also show more prosocial, or kind and helpful, behavior towards others.

Practices

Level
Duration
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Students write a letter or poem to express their gratitude to something in the natural world.
PreK/Lower Elementary
Multiple Sessions
Students identify the many ways that exist to express gratitude.
Middle School
≤ 1 hour
Students define gratitude and give an example of a time they felt grateful.
Upper Elementary
≤ 30 minutes
Students draw and write about ways they have acted with kindness towards others.
PreK/Lower Elementary
≤ 30 minutes
Students learn to say “thank you” in American Sign Language and brainstorm non-verbal ways to express gratitude.
Upper Elementary
≤ 30 minutes
Students express gratitude through singing.
PreK/Lower Elementary
≤ 30 minutes
Students identify their strengths to increase self-understanding. (Gratitude for Tweens and Teens Lesson 1)
Middle School, High School
≤ 1 hour
Students reflect on why another person acted kindly towards them, and practice gratitude both verbally & in writing.
Upper Elementary
≤ 30 minutes
Students define gratitude and name things they’re grateful for.
PreK/Lower Elementary
≤ 30 minutes
Students reflect on acts of kindness and how they often require intention and effort on the part of the person who does them.
Upper Elementary
≤ 30 minutes
Students interview an older person about gratitude, deepening their own understanding of gratitude.
Middle School
≤ 30 minutes
Students write five things they’re grateful for once a day for two weeks.
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School
≤ 15 minutes
Students write a letter of thanks and deliver it in person.
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School
≤ 30 minutes
Students deepen their understanding of gratitude by “embodying” it.
Upper Elementary
≤ 30 minutes
Students take a mindful walk in nature, noting what they are grateful for, and create a collaborative art piece of their experience.
Upper Elementary
≤ 1 hour
Students interpret and role-play a variety of quotes about gratitude.
Middle School
≤ 1 hour
Students express gratitude towards the many people whose efforts have brought them food.
Upper Elementary
Multiple Sessions
Students get a secret kindness buddy to do a kind act for during the week.
PreK/Lower Elementary
≤ 30 minutes
Students learn that when someone does something kind, it takes time and effort.
Middle School
≤ 1 hour
Students identify ways that they have acted with kindness towards others.
PreK/Lower Elementary
≤ 30 minutes
Students recognize the costs and benefits involved in a kind act. (Gratitude for Tweens and Teens Lesson 2)
Middle School, High School
≤ 1 hour
Students look for the good in others by acknowledging each other’s strengths. (Gratitude for Tweens and Teens Lesson 3)
Middle School, High School
≤ 1 hour
Students learn how the positive emotions from gratitude create a cycle of giving.
Middle School
≤ 1 hour
Students record three good things that happened to them each day for a week.
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School
≤ 15 minutes
Students learn how kindness and gratitude strengthen friendships through Splat the Cat.
PreK/Lower Elementary
≤ 30 minutes
Students identify what gets in the way of expressing gratitude.
Upper Elementary
≤ 1 hour
Students define gratitude and the many forms it takes.
Middle School
Multiple Sessions
Through stories, discussion, and creative presentations about true heroes, students foster their compassion for others and see brave community involvement as an admirable, heroic way of life.
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School
Multiple Sessions
“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold rather a large amount of Gratitude.”
–A. A. Milne