According to Cicero, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.” It seems that science is proving Cicero right!
Whilst many positive emotions and factors are important to well-being, there is evidence that gratitude may be uniquely important (Emmons and McCullough, 2003). Numerous studies support the value of practising gratitude, living gratefully, and counting our blessings (Boehm and Lyubomirsky, 2009).
Being grateful is seen as one way to raise our overall level of well-being and boost optimism even in the face of trouble and stress. Feeling grateful also broadens positive learning which in turn builds optimism. It allows people to see the good in their lives by focusing on positive events. Gratitude also decreases envy, anger, and greed (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005).
Three good things is an exercise used to increase positivity (Seligman et al., 2005). Students are asked to write down three good things that happened to them each day – these do not have to be dramatic, just something positive. Students are also asked to reflect on why they went well, what it means to them and how they can ensure that the good thing will happen again in the future.
You can encourage children to write these three good things in a Happiness Diary and ask them to continue to do this on a regular basis. Essentially this exercise works by retraining their attention to the good things in life – simple things that happen in the here and now. Here are some examples from pupils:
- “Playing soccer with my friends after school.”
- “Getting 100% in my maths test.”
- “Making really tasty jelly with my Mom.”
- “Reading Harry Potter.”
- “Seeing my little sister take her first steps.”
- “Playing in the yard with my friends.”
Why not try this yourself – no matter how bad the day has been, try to document three good things that have happened. See what happens to your mood.
Here are some other strategies for increasing positive emotion with your students using the idea of gratitude:
- Write a letter – Another activity to focus students on gratitude is to ask them to write a letter to someone they are grateful to but never properly thanked. This helps them to focus on what they have rather than what they do not have.
- Go on a gratitude visit – Again this involves making an effort to visit someone to thank them for their help (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005).
- Hunt the good stuff (Reivich, Seligman, & McBride, 2011) – For younger students asking them to play the game “hunt the good stuff” and report back each morning is a nice way to help them focus on the positive in their life and begin to notice the good. This can be a great exercise to complete in the morning as it sets a positive tone for the rest of the day.
- Savour the good times – There are a number of ways you can do this – the principle of the exercise is that the teacher compiles a class treasure chest – it can be a chest, a folder, or a digital file – this is where you save or treasure positive moments.
- Find a gratitude buddy – Help each student to find a gratitude buddy – this is a person they can talk to about what they are grateful for. The task for the gratitude buddy is to try to identify what it is that made the student feel grateful. This can be structured for younger children into worksheets.
- Teaching Mindfulness -There are many ways you can incorporate this into the class. One way is to ring a bell and have five minutes of thinking in silence. Another way is very deliberately during the day stop and take time to appreciate beauty. Hear, smell, taste, touch, and see the good stuff around you. Gradually have students contribute to the identification of beauty all around and take the lead in mindful awareness.
- What went well – 5 minutes at the end of class ask the students to identify 3 things that went well that day/ session. With younger students before they go home ask each in turn to identify one golden moment they experienced that day.
- Encourage your students to count their blessings at night before they go to sleep.
- Watch your language – increase the use of words such as fortunate, blessed, and lucky in your own vocabulary. When a student achieves something, help them identify who helped them (coach, a specific teacher, a parent who drove them to practise etc.) (Froh, 2010).
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Boehm, J. K., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2009). The promise of sustainable happiness. In S. J. Lopez (Ed.), Handbook of positive psychology (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: Experimental studies of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84,377-389.
Froh, J. J., & Bono, G. (2010). The gratitude of youth. In S. J. Lopez (Ed.), Positive psychology: Exploring the best in people. Westport, CT:Greenwood.
Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K., & Schkade, D. (2005). Perusing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9, 111 -131.
Reivich, K. J., Seligman, M. E. P., & McBride, S. (2011). Master resilience training in the U.S. Army. American Psychologist (66), 1, 25-34.
Seligman, M. E. P, Steen, T., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60 (5), 410-421.