Cultivating a sense of gratitude can transform teens’ well-being.
Thanksgiving is nearly here, and there’s no better time of year to practice cultivating gratitude. When we’re surrounded by loved ones, watching the leaves change color, and eating delicious food, it’s easy to feel thankful for the people and things that bring joy into our lives.
But that positive feedback loop doesn’t have to be exclusive to the Thanksgiving season — on the contrary, it shouldn’t be. Gratitude can have an outsize positive impact on our lives, especially for teens: according to research from the American Psychological Association, grateful teenagers are happier, less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, and less likely to have behavioral problems at school.
Teens can enjoy the benefits of gratitude by intentionally cultivating it year-round, even if thankfulness doesn’t come naturally to them. According to the APA study, teens who grew a sense of gratitude over a four-year period experienced the same psychological rewards as teens who were already grateful at the beginning of the four years, including an increased sense of meaning in their lives and higher levels of satisfaction with their lives overall.
Cultivating a sense of gratitude isn’t necessarily an easy practice, especially if a teen feels self-conscious or resistant to the idea. Rather than forcing tasks like journaling or creating lists, teachers and parents looking to encourage gratitude should develop a well-rounded “gratitude curriculum” that focuses on holistic identity development and relationship-building.
Adolescents who don’t feel good about themselves often have difficulty finding the good in the world around them. As a teacher or parent, focus on your teens’ strengths and encourage them to do the same. Empower them to pursue activities that enable them to develop those skills or traits, and nurture peer relationships based on complementary strengths. Encourage students to acknowledge each other’s strengths to connect more deeply with each other.
At the same time, suggest more structured gratitude practices for students who may be interested; these exercises can be as simple as silently giving thanks for one thing before dinner or as involved as keeping a nightly gratitude journal. Keep in mind that teens can’t be forced into gratitude exercises, but those who feel ready may find them valuable.
Ultimately, building teens’ self-esteem — and in turn, cultivating a sense of gratitude — isn’t just about increasing their individual happiness. Studies show that teens who are more grateful are also more kind to others, and teens who receive kindness become more grateful.
Here at Oliverian, we understand that developing a posture of gratitude takes time — it’s not something we can simply impose on or require of our teens. To that end, we strive to ensure every student is empowered to discover their worth, embrace their strengths, and to identify and pursue their passions.
Because the sooner you understand the value of your own gifts, talents, and perspective, the sooner you’ll recognize the value in others’.