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Do you keep a gratitude journal?

Over the last few years, gratitude journals have turned into an industry, with a huge variety of custom-made journals available on Amazon, testimonials from Oprah, and guidebooks in the self-help section. Positive psychologists have found that when people actively seek out gratitude in their everyday lives, they are likely to become happier and healthier.

Gratitude expert Robert Emmons notes in his essay “Why Gratitude is Good” that gratitude has two key components. “First,” he writes, “it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.”

Teachers have to model gratitude again and again for students to think more deeply in terms of why they’re grateful.

Secondly, we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. “We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”

Studies have consistently found that grateful people report better health, more optimism and happiness, stronger relationships, more generous behavior, and many other benefits. So what are some ways that we can encourage the positive habits of gratitude in students?

Educator Owen Griffith shared some tips for encouraging gratitude in a post for Edutopia magazine. His students use a composition book and start every day by writing five gratitudes. Once a week, they go around the class and share a favorite gratitude. He encourages students to be descriptive and specific, which also boosts communication skills.

According to Vicki Zakrzewski, Education Director of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of Berkeley, developing a practice of gratitude in students is dependent on modeling by their teachers. “Generally, by about 1st or 2nd grade, students can get that,” Zakrzewski said. “But teachers have to model that again and again for students to think more deeply in terms of why they’re grateful for someone [or something].”

Zakrzewski shared a list of easy-to-implement gratitude activities for the classroom that go beyond the gratitude journal, including ‘gratitude spies,’ bulletin boards, and ideas for research and action. She described a group of 8th grade students who formed a secret “Breakfast Club” dedicated to performing kind acts for the school’s staff, including donated Starbucks coffee deliveries and other treats.

To begin, teachers and parents might consider beginning a gratitude journal or intentionally practicing affirming acts. Inspiration from the well-researched positive outcomes of exercising your own ‘gratitude muscles’ will lead to ideas to help develop gratitude habits in our children and students.

Research Dr. Kerry Howells, a leading researcher into gratitude and education, actually trains teachers to utilize gratitude in the classroom. Check out her TEDTalk in the video below.