We gratefully remember the friend who defended us when others teased, the teacher who worked with us 1-1 until we understood, or the classmate with only one apple who offered it to us. We felt grateful for unexpected kindness, patience, or generosity. We noticed the good intentions behind the good deed. And, we were grateful for the intention behind the words, for the cost of the gesture, and for a gift from the heart.

Dr. Bono, at California State University, found that gratitude predicted improved mental health outcomes among teens including higher measured levels of hope, life satisfaction, happiness, and positive attitudes. There was also a corresponding decrease in negative emotion and depression. The intervening variable seems to be youth who are persistently mindful of the good in their lives. Dr. Bono also found that gratitude was correlated to higher levels of reported cooperation, purpose, creativity, and determination. Research suggests that the practice of gratitude fosters the development of essential 21st century skills. There are a set of core propositions at the heart of the positive psychology movement in schools that are predictive of mental health and overall wellness.

The gratitude research that focuses on children and adolescents mirrors the findings for adults.  

The Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) at the University of California at Berkley has tested a gratitude curriculum that teaches students three gratitude principles: 1) Notice the good intentions of others; 2) Appreciate the cost involved in giving the gift; and 3) Recognize the value of the benefits to you. These gratitude principles and associated activities can be easily connected to a variety of academic standards. Here are five recommended gratitude lessons that work well with all students, and especially adolescents.

1. Gratitude Box – The students create a box and prepare strips of paper. Each day every student reports a grateful thought, word, or deed dropping it in the box. At the end of the week, the information is collected and read anonymously.

 2. Raise Money – There are endless charities that students can raise money to support. They can buy a village goat by reading books through Heifer International, buy a tree in an American Forest, or sell lemonade for cancer research.

 3. Music & Art – Plan a gratitude graffiti wall in the hallway. Vote on a popular song with a theme of gratitude to perform daily as a flash dance. Create a gratitude logo, slogan, and marketing campaign with You-Tube commercial for gratitude.

 4. Last Will & Testament – A nostalgic activity found in many 1970 yearbooks. Each student writes a last will and testament stating what they plan to leave behind as their legacy. Will others notice their intentions? Appreciate their efforts? Recognize their contribution? Will someone remember them with grateful reverence?

5. Gratitude Projects – Participate in the Greater Good Science Center’s research by taking the gratitude quiz and writing in the gratitude journal, plan a random kindness month, or encourage students to give a heartfelt valentine with a gratitude message to three people: someone who is different from them, someone who they don’t know very well, and someone who they don’t like very much.

In every lesson ask them: Did you consider good intentions? Appreciate the cost? Recognize the value? After every lesson, ask yourself: Did you notice their good intentions, appreciate their time and effort, and recognize the intrinsic value in their work?

If so, you and your students will have learned a most important lesson of the heart. 



Bono, G. (2012). Searching for the developmental role of gratitude: A 4-year longitudinal analysis. Orlando, FL: American Psychological Association (APA).


Bole, N. B. (2009). How to be an everyday philanthropist. New York: Workman Press

Hanson, R. (2009). Buddha’s brain: The practical neuroscience of happiness, love and wisdom. New York: New Harbinger Press.

O’Neill, E. (1999). The last will and testament of a very distinguished dog. New York: Henry Holt & Company.

Web Resources

Alex’s Lemonade Stand http://www.alexslemonade.org

American Forests http://www.americanforests.org

Charity Watch http://www.charitywatch.org/toprated.html

Heifer International http://www.heifer.org/getinvolved/schools

 UC Berkley Greater Good Science Center’s Gratitude Theme Page


I would love to hear from you. Authentic education reform will occur when gratitude is deemed a subject worthy of research and study, K-12. Can your students define gratitude? Have they read the latest gratitude research? Have they ever raised funds for charity? Does your class have a class song that inspires gratitude? Who is the most grateful person you know? Who is the one person you are most grateful to have or have had in your life? Do you have a favorite lesson about gratitude: a lesson that you learned or a lesson that you teach?


Available March 2013: Positive Psychology in the Elementary School Classroom and is the first in a series that builds positive psychology classrooms. http://books.wwnorton.com/books/Author.aspx?id=23961

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About the Author

Patty O'Grady, Ph.D.

Patty O’Grady, Ph.D., is a professor at the University of Tampa committed to transformational education. She is the author of Positive Psychology in the Elementary School Classroom.

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