Practising gratitude at school to support student wellbeing
In a time of society that is marked by materialism, social media comparisons, accessibility and immediate gratification, gratitude can act as a moral anchor and a compass direction to a place of satisfaction and happiness.
Gratitude is an emotion that is centred around being, noticing and understanding what it means to be altruistic, thankful and appreciative (Froh & Bono, 2011). Practising and cultivating gratitude is to have an appreciation for life in the present moment (so also requires the skill of mindfulness - learn more about this here). It is the ability to reflect and appreciate the good things in your life, noticing the small details that bring you happiness and acknowledging the good that is around you right now - not being consumed with thoughts of the past or the future. When we are truly appreciative of what we have, we find a place of balance and contentment. Research tells us that when gratitude is woven into our daily lives, we see mental and physical health benefits.
Gratitude is a learned skill that has been shown to improve symptoms of low mood and anxiety, support wellbeing and improve school performance in children (Lomas et al. 2014). Over recent years, much progress has been made in understanding the relationship between gratitude and wellbeing in primary and secondary school aged children and adolescents. A study by Nguyen and Gordon (2020) found that gratitude can be related to increased levels of happiness in children as young as 5 years old. In addition to this, the review by Watkins (2014) showed that students aged 10-10years old reported an increase in their subjective wellbeing when they increased their gratitude practices. This research tells us that students of all ages benefit from being taught gratitude practices and that, if we start this at a young age, we could help students to be happy and healthier people (Chopik et al., 2019).
Students who regularly practise gratitude see improvement in:
- Emotion regulation skills
- Less externalising behaviour difficulties
- Improved self-esteem
- Better sleep
- Resilience in emotional and psychological health
- Decreased likelihood of mental health disorder development
- Stable and meaningful relationships
- Open-mind set
(Layous & Lyubomirsky, 2014; Bono & Odudu, 2016).
Gratitude interventions uniquely contribute to wellbeing as they promote improvement in all areas of holistic wellbeing (Lomas et al. 2014; Layous & Lyubomirsky 2014). . When gratitude practice is taught in the school setting, it can orient our students to a more positive and strength-focussed approach to life's challenges. Try one of these gratitude exercises in your class today.
Social learning theory tells us we learn by seeing and modelling our behaviour off those around us. Demonstrate gratitude to your students, communicate your own reflections of gratitude and teach behaviours and language to facilitate this in your students.
Help students to be more present and mindful of the good things in life. Give students a journal starter sentence and give them 5-10mins to write and reflect.
- What has made you smile today?
- Today I am looking forward to..
- At this moment I am grateful for..
- Someone I would like to thank/am grateful for is..
- I enjoy _______ about myself and my life.
Gratitude Scavenger hunt
Set up a scavenger hunt by giving students a list of objects/people/experiences or activities to reflect on.
- Find an object you enjoy looking at
- Find a sound that makes you smile
- What is something that smells amazing?
- What is your favourite meal?
- What is something you enjoy doing with your family?
- What is something you enjoy about ___ subject
Gratitude mindfulness exercise
Ask your students to stop, pause and be present.
- Write down three things they are grateful for in their day today.
- Encourage students to consider the small and the big wins of the day - was their favourite song on the radio on the way to school? Do they have a yummy lunch? Did they get paired with a friend for a project?
- For older students, you can use a timer and get them to write down as many things they are grateful for in 2 minutes.
Embed this in your school day:
- You can stop to give thanks before a meal - this is a simple habit that helps us notice and appreciate the blessing of food on the table, it doesn't have to be tied to a religious practice.
- School classes may have a gratitude circle at the end of each school day or a gratitude box that they write to once a day.
- Bono, G., & Odudu, C. (2016). Promoting the development of gratitude to build character and improve society. In Perspectives on gratitude (pp. 199-212). Routledge.
- Chopik, W. J., Newton, N. J., Ryan, L. H., Kashdan, T. B., & Jarden, A. J. (2019). Gratitude across the life span: Age differences and links to subjective well-being. The journal of positive psychology, 14(3), 292-302.
- Froh, J. J., & Bono, G. (2011). Gratitude in youth: a review of gratitude interventions and some ideas for applications. Communique, 39(5).
- Layous, K., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2014). Benefits, mechanisms, and new directions for teaching gratitude to children. School Psychology Review, 43(2), 153-159.
- Lomas, T., Froh, J. J., Emmons, R. A., Mishra, A., & Bono, G. (2014). Gratitude interventions: A review and future agenda. The Wiley Blackwell handbook of positive psychological interventions, 1-19.
- Nguyen, S. P., & Gordon, C. L. (2020). The relationship between gratitude and happiness in young children. Journal of Happiness Studies, 21(8), 2773-2787.
- Watkins, P. C. (2014). Gratitude and the good life: Toward a psychology of appreciation. New York, NY: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-7253-3