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

Keyword
Level
Duration
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Foster positive relationships by speaking kindly about someone “behind their back.”
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School, College, Adult
≤ 15 minutes
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
Students identify ways that they have acted with kindness towards others.
PreK/Lower Elementary
≤ 30 minutes
Students express gratitude towards the many people whose efforts have brought them food.
Upper Elementary
Multiple Sessions
Students define gratitude and name things they’re grateful for.
PreK/Lower Elementary
≤ 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 identify their strengths to increase self-understanding. (Gratitude for Tweens and Teens Lesson 1)
Middle School, High School
≤ 1 hour
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 record three good things that happened to them each day for a week.
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School
≤ 15 minutes
“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold rather a large amount of Gratitude.”
–A. A. Milne
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