Rewarding Gratitude in Schools and in Ourselves

Gratitude has become a hot topic to teach in schools

I believe that as adults, we naturally become more grateful as we get older; with the past to reflect on; remembering ‘cringe’ moments that we regret today (fortunately – forgiveness is a virtue!). I doubt anyone could deny that they screamed at their parents ‘it’s not fair’ at least once in their childhood. Let’s face it, as adults, a high percentage of us will probably agree that actually, it turns out – life still isn’t! But after working hard at our studies, with help from our teachers, guidance from our parents, and laughter with friends and family, we can grow to understand and appreciate everyone and everything that has ever guided us and helped us get to where we are today. Or at least it should, right?

I suppose this could depend on what you value and what you want out of life. Maybe those who try really hard but found it hard to accomplish something were more grateful once they did, than those deemed to have been ‘handed it on a plate’, who could be more likely to take things for granted. Or maybe those who try hard might find it more difficult to feel grateful because their focus is more on achieving goals, rather than thanking those who helped them? Or, we could look at it as those who have very little, by way of possessions and commodities, show gratitude more than those who have a lot.

Investigators of gratitude

We at the Jubilee Centre have investigated who and what young people are grateful to and for, and why. We have encouraged young people to think more about gratitude. Research findings from the An Attitude for Gratitude research project revealed that, out of 10,000 people in Britain, 60% believe gratitude is lacking in schools.

The Jubilee Centre’s annual gratitude contest –The Thank You Letter Awards – has seen an increase and demand for resources that introduce ‘the recognition of gratitude’ in schools. As a result, I think it’s pretty safe for me to say that gratitude has become a hot topic to teach in schools! We have distributed over 40,000 Thank You Letters across 200 schools in the UK this year. I, accompanied by a box of tissues, shortlisted the finalists from letters that schools had submitted to the national contest, before passing them over to the judges to decide which letters displayed most authenticity, and celebrated with a ceremony at the University of Birmingham to recognise and reward the young people who have shown gratitude in their everyday lives.

But can gratitude be taught? We in the Jubilee Centre certainly believe so, and have created a variety of resources and approaches to teaching gratitude in schools, along with explaining the positive psychology behind it; encouraging teachers to see the importance of implementing gratitude into the curriculum.

Jubilee Centre research shows that the benefits of expressing gratitude help with your mental health and wellbeing. I can see how this would work; if you are never grateful, how would anyone ever feel happy? You may feel let down and neglected. This is why, I think, it is as important to identify that someone is grateful, as it is to be grateful. The Jubilee Centre has attempted to emphasise the importance of gratitude even further, this year, by creating a Schools Gratitude Day teaching pack packed full of fun activities and ideas for exploring gratitude in the classroom. Almost 80 schools from across the UK and internationally took part in a range of activities that promote gratitude.

So who are young people most grateful to?

Findings from the Thank You Letter Awards show that young people aged between 5 and 16 are most grateful to their mothers. I don’t think this comes as any great surprise; most young people are reliant on parents, at this young age, so saying ‘thank you’ to mothers is a fairly obvious choice.

Findings show that male pupils between the ages of 5 and 11 were most grateful to an inspirational person – mainly footballers such as Lionel Messi, whereas female pupils were most grateful to their mothers. The findings proved interesting when split by age groups, as older male pupils (11-16 years) were equally grateful to their mothers and an inspirational person, whereas for female pupils aged between 11 and 16, a clear majority were most grateful to an inspirational person, 14% more than those who were grateful to their mother . Teachers or trainers and emergency services were the next most frequently recognised groups.

Time to compare…

The Thank You Film Awards, which ran as a precursor to the Thank You Letter Awards, ran between 2012 and 2015 as a national programme that asked young people to make a film based on ‘gratitude’. When comparing the findings from the Film Awards with the Letter Awards, it is motivating to see that not one young person thanked a material item in the Letter Awards, whereas many did so in the Film Awards. Thanking family members is a consistent feature of both versions of the awards.

It is important that children understand the importance of gratitude, over social status, possessions, etc, and understand that a kind gesture should be recognised and appreciated, rather than just taken for granted.

Should I have expressed more gratitude back when I was at school? Would it have made me a different person, or, more so, a better person than the one I am today? I cannot say for sure, but it might have made me a happier person, with greater life satisfaction.  So, what have young people got to lose, ey ? The Jubilee Centre promotes positive character development in all, so let’s work not just on helping other people become more grateful, but ourselves as well. It’s never too late.

Victoria Hogan, Development Officer, Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues

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