Thank Goodness: The Benefits of Gratitude in the Classroom

With most of a challenging semester behind us and Thanksgiving on the horizon, it’s a good time to think about gratitude. More specifically, it’s an opportunity to consider the potential power of fostering gratitude in our students. This doesn’t require training. According to research, faculty and students—who have lately been through a lot—have a lot to gain from focusing on what we’re thankful for.

Social scientists have been accumulating evidence on the topic for some time. In a 2017 meta-analysis of thirty-eight studies, Leah R. Dickens found that “gratitude interventions can have positive benefits for people in terms of their well-being, happiness, life satisfaction, grateful mood, grateful disposition, and positive affect, and they can result in decreases in depressive symptoms.” 

Dickens focused her attention on long-term interventions rather than single-shot activities, and she suggests that the benefits are most likely to come from repeated or ongoing practices. That said, the practices don’t necessarily need to be onerous or heavily time-consuming. And, helpfully for our purposes, she specifically looked at interventions that can be implemented without training—the kinds of practices you can readily work into your courses. Here are a few examples of exercises you could consider introducing:

  • Gratitude Launch: You could start each synchronous class session by asking students to name—out loud, in the chat, or on a Google Jamboard—at least one thing they feel thankful for.
  • Gratitude Meditation: You could dedicate a few minutes of class time to a focused meditation, whether you lead it yourself or turn to one of the many of the videos available online. The Positive Psychology website offers several examples of meditations you can use.
  • Gratitude Object: Students could be asked to identify a small object to carry with them throughout their day or to place on their desk, so that, each time they notice it, they are reminded to focus on thankfulness.
  • Gratitude Journal: Students could be asked to keep a daily record of events, people, or activities that they appreciate. This could take the form of words and/or pictures or other media, and could be kept in a private journal or could happen in a discussion board for the course.
  • You can find still more ideas on the Positive Psychology website.

We hope these possibilities will prove useful to you and your students. As Dickens’ meta-analysis suggests, gratitude has a lot to offer.