“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” — Oprah Winfrey
Chris Peterson and Martin Seligman (the founders of Positive Psychology) define gratitude as, “A sense of thankfulness and joy in response to receiving a gift whether the gift is a tangible benefit from a specific other or a moment of peaceful bliss evoked by natural beauty.”
As I am sure most of you have heard, gratitude is incredibly important to living a fulfilling life. In this world of consumerism and instant gratification, gratitude helps keep our children grounded. One of the reasons that gratitude works to make people happier is that it creates upward spirals, a concept based on Barbara Fredrickson’s broaden and build theory that states that positive emotion broadens our perspective and awareness in a way that helps us notice more positivity and that leads to building better relationships, experiences, and resources that enhance our life. (http://www.unc.edu/peplab/research.html)
Gratitude also increases positivity, enhances experiences and enables savoring of the experience. A really powerful result of gratitude is that it counters the hedonic treadmill (the tendency to return to our previous level of happiness shortly after a positive event), counters materialism, decreases social comparison, and decreases stress. Introducing a simple daily gratitude exercise into your classroom can help kids stay focused on the blessings in their lives instead of what they perceive to be lacking.
A study by Emmons and McCullough shows that being grateful correlates with more satisfaction with life, more pro-social and other-centered behavior, less maladaptive self pre-occupation, better sleep and vitality, and more optimism. (Emmons & McCullough (2004). The Psychology of Gratitude. New York, NY: Oxford Press.)
I highly recommend trying each of these exercises yourself before implementing into your classroom. You will be more enthusiastic if you have experienced the benefits first!
- Gratitude Ping Pong: This is a fun game for any age (although younger children may get into it a little more) where you divide the kids into pairs and they throw a ball back and forth. The person with the ball says something they are thankful for and throws it to the other person and that person then says something they are thankful for and throws it back. The only rule is that you can’t repeat what the other person just said. It is nice to do it in pairs because this really makes the kids dig deep to think of all the things that they are grateful for but it can also be played in bigger groups standing in a circle. You could also have the kids throw the ball to a person in the group and tell that person why they are thankful for them.
- 3 Good Things:This exercise has been proven by research in the field of positive psychology to increase happiness. At some point each day, you ask the kids to write three good things that have happened to them in the last 24 hours. Anything from making an A on a test, scoring a goal in the lacrosse game, or your mom made your favorite thing for dinner, or you saw a pretty flower on the way to school will work. Then you ask the kids to think about why these good things happened. What was the cause? This helps them to think about the event more and develop a greater appreciation for it and why it happened. It also has the benefit of helping the child see the connection between action and results. For example the child may think, “I made an A on that test because I studied really hard.” You could get gratitude journals for your classroom and have each kid decorate their own journal.
- Gratitude Letter: Ask your students to think of someone who they never properly thanked for something. It could be a parent, a teacher, a friend, etc… Then ask them to write a letter to that person telling them why they are so grateful for whatever the person did for them. It’s great if the students can then deliver the letter and read it in person so that they can get the most out of the experience by seeing the other person’s reaction. If that isn’t possible, it is fine to send the letter in the mail.
- Gratitude Jar: You can put a gratitude jar in your classroom where kids can write down things they are grateful for and put them in the jar and you can read them daily or weekly.
- Gratitude minute: When students are getting a little tired or restless take a gratitude minute as an energizer and pick a student to stand up and quickly say something they are grateful for.
You get the idea. There are so many exercises you could bring into your classroom. You can make up your own gratitude exercise. Try it out for a week and let me know how it goes and post your ideas here!
Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson